Newspapers play an important societal role

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A community without a newspaper is a desert waiting for bad things to happen. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to witness the event, does the tree make any noise when it falls? Often, when things happen, there is one entity who is there to record what happens. The newspaper will report that the crashing tree did, indeed, made a loud cracking sound as it slowly made its way to the ground, followed by a gushing woosh as the tree and its voluminous limbs came to a bouncing rest.

On a more real-world note, we remember two reporters who, in 1972, wondered if there was more to a third-rate break-in at the Watergate hotel, than just a bungled criminal enterprise. Those two reporters, of course, kept asking questions and talking to people until they uncovered a scandal that reached the highest offices in government. President Richard Nixon, who despised The Washington Post, was forced to resign when Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reported that Nixon had orchestrated a cover up to disguise the real purpose behind the break-in of Democratic Party offices in the Watergate hotel.

The effort by that newspaper, in the face of what must have been withering pressure by a powerful government, forever set the standard by which presidents now must live.

Today, we have a president who has turned the practice of media bashing into an art. Donald Trump has convinced many people that the media is the problem, and not the people in power. That’s a silly postulate, but his supporters blindly accept his word as the gospel without questioning his motives as they question the motives of others.

Newspapers, however, have been equal-opportunity questioners of those in power regardless of party or philosophical bent.

That serves our society well because a healthy skepticism helps keep in line those who might otherwise go astray.

And, it’s just as important a mission in a place like Roxboro and Person County as it is in the halls of power in world capitals like Washington, D.C.

The shrinking size of newsrooms in this country has led to fewer people holding those in power accountable and that’s an unfortunate reality for all us. While the party now in power may appreciate less scrutiny, it’s certain that, one day, that party will find itself in the minority and it will yearn for more people to be able to see what they consider the mistakes of the party in power.

Ask yourself this question: When is the last time you attended a county commissioners meeting, or a school board meeting? What rules are being considered by your county planning board that might limit how you can use your property? How is the Person County Health Department functioning in the wake of significant personnel changes? When’s the last time you listened to any of those bodies deliberate on the issues that matter to you?

For most of us, the answer is “never.” Instead, we depend on the newspaper to let us know what’s happening on those fronts.

So, as you pick up your newspaper this week – National Newspaper Week is Oct. 6-12 – consider what you would miss if you had no outlet for news in your hometown. That would be a bleak prospect, indeed.

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