Believe in your local paper

It’s a troubling era for the free press everywhere, but it’s even harder for community news.

  • Wednesday, November 27, 2019 12:28pm
  • Opinion
Paul Rowley (File Photo).

Paul Rowley (File Photo).

An informed citizenry makes for a stronger society, so I have read, but if anything can be said about the ongoing impeachment inquiry embroiling ambassadors, diplomats and political figures in Washington, D.C., it’s that plenty of people aren’t paying attention.

That’s according to a recent article in The New York Times, describing how average Americans have tuned out of the proceedings for a myriad of reasons. They run the gambit from distrust of the media to burnout from the disorienting barrage of headlines fighting for clicks, and growing repulsion of the pundits yelling at screens about corruption and quid-pro-quos.

This pains me to admit, but I’m not following much of it, either.

When I leave my desk at the end of the day, I like to go home and turn the world off. I curl up on the couch by myself with a bowl of mac-and-cheese and watch another episode of The Office until I fall asleep. But lately, I have been questioning this routine. Maybe it’s a symptom of sincere exhaustion — I’m constantly busy meeting deadlines and I work the night shift at a side job every weekend to support myself. Or perhaps, living in dispiriting times, this is me, world-weary.

Vashon has its share of challenges, many of which we here at The Beachcomber have tried to devote a fair amount of coverage to. We spend hours making phone calls and taking pages of notes to turn into our articles. But it can be hard to keep up. What gets to me on some days is the number of enormous and frightening problems in this country that I accept will probably not be solved in my lifetime. Our cities will burn and flood every year for the rest of eternity; xenophobes, white nationalists and misogynists will get elected; and six months from now, we will probably learn that Chick-Fil-A is giving out as much money as ever to dangerous, hateful organizations. No, I won’t say, “I told you so.”

And somewhere in America, another community newspaper with a small circulation will put out its last issue and shut its doors for good — more than 1,800 just in the last 15 years — because it can’t stay afloat. That’s when things get really bad.

It’s a troubling era for the free press everywhere, but it’s even harder for community news. The nonprofit PEN America released a report last week assessing the extent of how imperiled local journalism is, painting a sobering portrait of cities and counties in Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina that were hit hard after restructuring, layoffs, consolidations and sell-offs eviscerated decades-old media outlets there.

So what happens when a community loses its newspaper? The report found that, when crucial stories and vital information goes unreported, elected officials operate with less integrity, efficiency and transparency. People don’t vote as much and fewer choose to run for office. The public loses its faith in remaining sources for information about health, education, elections and other issues.

Lucky for us, Vashon is a special place, and one of those reasons, to me, is because The Beachcomber simply exists. I think there is some consistently good work in this newspaper. I stand by it. I think it has tremendous potential.

For good measure, we also have The Riptide, a fabulous and diligent student newspaper. We have broadcasts, radio shows and real-time emergency alerts provided by Voice of Vashon, and there are columns and letters and dispatches you won’t read on our pages in The Loop. We live in a uniquely decent media landscape on this island, in comparison to that of the rest of the nation.

It’s easy to have doubts or want to turn it all off and quit. But this I know: I am lucky to have this job. I have had the amazing fortune of working with and learning from talented, dedicated, long-time writers and reporters who are passionate about what they do. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a lot of you about what is happening on this island. And there is so much happening all of the time. Vashon deserves a good newspaper.

It’s been a busy year at The Beachcomber, full of change. If you’re reading this, I owe you a debt for getting me off of the couch and coming to work every day. This newspaper is here for you, by you, the reader. And we can be great. But our staff is only as good as the support you can give us, the tips you can share with us, and the trust that you have in us. Because here’s the thing: I can empathize with you if you don’t believe in much these days. But I hope that you believe in this paper. Thanks for reading.

Paul Rowley is a reporter at The Beachcomber.

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