Informed Communities Are Healthy Communities

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher
Swift County Monitor-News

A recent University of North Carolina study found that since 2004 1,800 newspapers had disappeared in America – 1,700 of the community weekly newspapers.

In the metropolitan areas of America, there is a relatively rich media culture with commercial television stations, public radio and television stations, internet web sites devoted to covering the both the urban region and communities within it, and daily newspapers.

However, many of these dailies have seen their newsrooms gutted with the savings on reporter salaries going to pay investors of their hedge fund owners.

In many rural communities, the only source of the news is the local newspaper. The information we provide reaches deeply into the fabric of what makes a community connected, successful, inclusive and forward looking. When it disappears, the community’s health is threatened

In Healthy communities

What are the characteristics of a healthy community?

- Residents are connected by the stories of their families, neighbors, schools, local governments, religious institutions, health care facilities, social organizations, and business community.

- Its citizens are aware of what is happening, and encouraged and motivated to participate to make their communities a better place to live and work.

- Connected communities create a sense of belonging. Living in a connected community is nurturing, inclusive and rewarding. Connected communities give their citizens a sense of common purpose that binds them together to face challenges.

- Citizens knowledgeable about who their elected officials are, what they are doing, and how to influence their decisions for the betterment of the residents of a community.

- Residents inspired to make improvements and address failings in their communities.

- Are empowered by the information newspapers provide to hold those in power accountable.

- Citizens a trusted source of information with the authority to challenge power; the knowledge of the laws that protect a citizens right to attend meetings and access to the information elected officials study to make their decisions; the financial strength to go to court, if necessary, to protect the rights of citizens; and the reach within a community to ensure that public officials know that news of their actions will be widely disseminated among the electorate.

In towns across America, it is the local newspaper that provides these essentials that create an informed and healthy community. There is no substitute that replaces what is lost when a community newspaper disappears.

Unhealthy Communities

What happens in communities that are not informed by a common, trusted source of information a newspaper provides? Studies have found that:

- Fewer people vote.

- Fewer people run for office.

- Interest rates go up for bonding because the investors know that when the government watchdog is gone there is a greater likelihood of financial malfeasance.

- People in the community become more self-interested and less community minded.

- Communities without newspapers are more polarized.  Relying on Facebook and Google searches often leaves people deceived as well as misinformed. It also incites bitterness rather than conversation
- Environmental laws get rolled back with little attention or outrage.

- Local governments can levy for millions of dollars on construction projects voters do not support. If the newspaper isn’t covering the meetings and writing the stories, decisions would be made without citizens given the opportunity to raise questions.

- Citizens don’t have the information they need to make decisions on bonding proposals, whether it is for their children’s education or the expansion of broadband to rural communities.

- Public officials deceive citizens on their right to attend an open meeting, or their right to review public documents.

- Citizens don’t know who is running for office, or what those who are would stand for if elected.

- Citizens don’t know if their elected officials are serving their interests, or cheating them; ff they are diligent, or derelict in their duties.

- Open meeting laws and data practices access would be curtailed, hiding vital information from citizens.

- In the digital world, people can know more about is happening in the world than they do about what is happening in their back yards.

What next for newspapers

There is no digital salvation for community newspapers. For the more than 14,600 communities in America with populations of 5,000 or less, you can say goodbye to your news in a digital-only world. Digital advertising accounts for 0 to 5 percent of revenue at many small community newspapers. We simply don’t have the reach to generate the millions, or tens of millions, of hits required to be a player in the digital revenue market.

If we are to have healthy communities, we must begin to look for solutions to keep America’s community newspapers thriving.

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