Our opinion: Sunshine Week is designed to highlight the importance of open government and how it relates to our free democracy, but it’s also a chance to reflect on what we do for the Freeman community as a newspaper.
This is Sunshine Week, a time to highlight the importance of transparency and holding government officials and agencies accountable. It began Sunday, March 10.
The first national Sunshine Week in 2005 coincided with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, father of the Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights. The observance was a project of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) to focus attention – shine the light – on access to public information, open government and journalism’s role in promoting transparency and has become an annual commemoration.
But this year, ASNE, The Associated Press and Associated Press Media Editors are also focusing on a growing and troubling trend across American journalism: the loss or diminishment of local news coverage.
A statement from the groups notes, “what if there is no news outlet to shine the light? Over the past 15 years, newspaper closures and consolidations have left more than 1,400 cities across the U.S. without their main source of regular local news. What that loss means to the community and the ability to hold officials and government institutions accountable is the focus of this year’s Sunshine Week.”
The trend of shrinking newsrooms, fewer pages and newspapers closing can’t be ignored. The emergence of the internet in the 1990s is clearly a factor. It offers more choices and sources for news, offering speed, accessibility and vibrant visual-audio elements than the traditional ink-on-paper newspaper. An even more challenging impact of the internet is the shift of advertising from print to online. This one-two punch means fewer newspaper readers and fewer advertisers; that’s the revenue stream that’s kept newspapers vibrant over the years.
Adding to the challenge is consolidation of ownership and loss of local ownership.
“You can blame the insatiable grab for profits from hedge fund ownership like Alden Global Capital and its Digital First Media, writes Joyce Terhaar, a board member with the American Society of News Editors and the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee. “But even companies with deep commitments to their journalistic mission have been forced to issue one layoff after another, dismantling newsroom staffs that once kept a check on the powerful.”
In general, the larger the community and newspaper, the greater the challenge. The initial impact was clearly felt by newspapers in larger population centers. But the trend continues to spread across newspapers of all sizes. While this is not meant to present a gloom and doom picture, the fact is that newspapers large and small are feeling the challenges of these trends.
And thus, here’s another perspective on the value of “sunshine” — the importance of newspapers shining light on the life and vitality of our communities. While the Courier continues to hold local elected officials and government bodies accountable through consistent reporting, our primary mission is to share information about the people and events of the community.
Look no further than last week’s coverage of the Freeman High School girls’ participation in the State B Girls Basketball Tournament. Look no further than what you’ll read in the upcoming weeks about the 61st Schmeckfest.
The reporting of the Flyers’ three games was remarkably different from the coverage in 2010 when they last played in the state tournament. In addition to the third section in this week’s print edition documenting the tournament, the Courier offered significant online coverage last week, including social media reporting and game updates within hours of each game. It included multimedia features you’d normally see on television.
Why do we do that? Because that’s what readers have come to expect.
For more than two decades, in addition to providing an evolving print product, the Courier has embraced the internet as an important tool. This combination of media formats supports our mission of providing vibrant news reporting for our community and to be a key player in the life of the community.
That’s possible only because the Courier continues to have loyal readers who subscribe and local businesses that recognize the value of using the Courier and its related advertising publications to promote the products and services they offer.
Newspapers in small rural communities face unique challenges where the population – and by extension, readership – continues to shrink. But the internet also offers a unique opportunity in enabling a broader community. It’s now easier for people who do not live in the Freeman to remain in touch with the community on a daily, hourly basis. It has expanded the definition of community.
The bottom line is this: regardless of the delivery method and publication schedule, community newspapers continue to have a vital mission in serving their communities. That includes shining light to ensure government is acting responsibility and sharing the day-to-day life activities of the citizens. Both are essential for the life and vitality of our communities.
With your continued support, we reaffirm our commitment to let the sun shine on our community.
The Courier editorial reflects the opinion of Courier publisher Jeremy Waltner and former publisher Tim L. Waltner.