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Sunshine Week

As the famous playwright Arthur Miller once said, “A newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”

A local newspaper invites a community to have a conversation.

The newspaper publishes news and opinion and provides a forum through which members of the community can share their news and opinions with one another.

A local newspaper enables its charities, schools and churches to invite community members to gather together to make the community a better place. Its volunteer fire departments send in notices about the pancake breakfasts that support their rescue work, and its animal shelters send in photos of cats and dogs who need new homes.

When fire destroys a family’s home or a child’s bicycle is stolen, the newspaper tells the story and its readers open their hearts and wallets.

When its local government is about to sell a person’s home to pay a long-overdue tax bill, or a bank plans to foreclose on an unpaid mortgage, it is required to notify the entire community by placing a public notice in a local newspaper.

Sometimes, the person’s home is saved because a neighbor or relative notifies the homeowner and the overdue bill is paid.

Newspapers save their readers money, by offering local businesses a way to tell readers about sales, and helps its readers sell items by placing classified ads.

Newspapers also help residents save money on their taxes. A study by the Brookings Institution and the Brandeis International Business School in July 2018 revealed that the cost of government borrowing in communities with newspapers was significantly lower than in communities without local newspapers. When there is no newspaper to keep watch over government spending and efficiency, both decline.

Newspapers can also help their readers improve their own finances, through publication of advice columns on personal finance. In 2018, newspapers reported on the implications of federal tax law changes which altered the deductibility of state and local income and property taxes, directing readers to online resources to check their own payroll deductions in time to avoid surprise tax bills.

Newspapers help maintain political balance and reduce the corrosive effect of political polarization, which drives a wedge of distrust between members of a community.

Research by Louisiana State University, Colorado State University and Texas A&M University in 2018 showed that voters in communities with local newspapers tended to vote in a less partisan fashion, often basing their decisions on local issues and impact rather than national partisan disagreements. Newspapers offer local candidates a forum to explain policy proposals, which will then be examined by knowledgeable reporters and editors.

Many of the stories the newspaper tells are controversial or upsetting to some readers, but it is often the nature of news that it is a recounting of what takes place that is out of the ordinary.

Readers need to know that a beloved teacher has been arrested for abusing children, or that a government official has stolen taxpayer funds.

Journalists help readers navigate the flood of information emanating from the world around them, by selecting and evaluating news of current events, filtering out information that cannot be adequately verified. Journalists are trained to view information with a skeptical eye, and to demand confirmation of its accuracy.

Newspaper editors insist upon documentation to back up stories and seek out multiple sources of information whenever documentation is difficult to acquire. Journalists attend many government meetings and request government documents in order to provide their readers with vital information.

Newspapers report on the criminal justice system, where judges and juries decide a local person’s freedom or safety. The simple knowledge that an impartial observer is recording events helps keep everyone honest, and that’s good for the newspaper and its community.

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Diane Kennedy is the president of the New York News Publishers Association.

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