DEAN RIDINGS COLUMN: Galloping goats, biting gators and more in your local newspaper

Published 12:34 pm Sunday, October 4, 2020

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Editor’s Note: The following column is published in observance of National Newspaper Week, Oct. 4-10.

If you happened to read the Albuquerque Journal recently you would have learned about a family who used their (galloping) goats to gobble up weeds and earn some extra money while keeping the city’s weeds and grass trimmed.

Dean Ridings

In the Orlando Sentinel, you would have discovered that a man was attacked and bitten by an alligator while hunting near one of the local lakes.

Neither of these stories are life-and-death issues, unless you happen to be the hunter, but they provide interesting glimpses into life in their communities.

While these headlines easily grabbed your attention, these same newspapers also covered the more important stories, like the actions of the local city council, the school board and state government, and you probably won’t see those stories elsewhere. Journalists tell the stories that are fun to read, but even more importantly, the ones we need to know. America needs journalists.

While you can’t turn on a TV, radio or even look at Facebook without seeing mentions of COVID-19, there has been as much misinformation disseminated as actual facts. Chances are your newspaper has covered the pandemic and its real impact on your community.

Your newspaper is a reliable source that provides information about the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, so you are better equipped to make an informed decision about how best to cope with these new challenges. America needs journalists. And what if you really need to know the details about which face mask works better and which ones you should avoid? Check your newspaper. It probably has the information, or you could give Google a try. Many of the results will be from newspapers. America needs journalists.

I happen to live in Florida, the state with the most hurricane landfalls. Hurricanes are a big deal here, and if I want to know the path of the storm, there are lots of options. But if I want to know where my local shelters are located, where I can get sand bags, the expected impact on my city, and what I need to do to prepare, there is no better source than the local newspaper. And yes, Florida needs journalists.

Whether you live in Iowa and face routine tornadic activity, or live in Montana with its blizzards, newspapers provide insights into dealing with those routine challenges better than any other source.

Newspapers also provide real benefits to those who never read them or even glance at a headline. Last year, the Anchorage Daily News did a series of investigative stories that showed how a third of Alaska’s villages had no police protection. The series led to the U.S. Attorney General declaring an emergency for public safety in rural Alaska, and he was able to free up $10.5 million to support local police efforts and public safety. While many people in the affected villages never saw or even heard of the series in the Anchorage Daily News, they all reaped the benefit. America needs journalists.

Newspapers, and journalism in general, is under siege as the disruption of the internet, the rise of Google and Facebook and their use of newspapers’ content without payment have all wreaked havoc on the industry.

With many restaurants and retailers closing the past few months due to the pandemic, advertising revenue has plummeted even further. While newspapers continue to tell the story, it has gotten more difficult. While America needs journalists, journalists need you. Your paid subscription and support of local journalism matters. Consider taking one additional step in support of your local newspaper: Ask your Congressional representative to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.

Dean Ridings is CEO of America’s Newspapers, a national trade association representing more than 1,600 newspapers across the U.S. and Canada.