Where was it that you heard about the so-called demise of the newspaper?
Probably, you read about it in your daily newspaper; because, as Mark Twain, a journalist himself, was able to write to a friend: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” And a good newspaper will go on to explain the source of the rumor, and if false, will present the facts that debunk it.
Well into the 21st century, American newspapers are as relevant as ever, because like other vital segments of their community, they are always at work and always looking to reinvent themselves. We’ve seen this in high-profile deals such as Jeff Bezos’ acquisition of The Washington Post; but we’ve also seen dramatic changes nationally at newspapers large and small, as their news, advertising, marketing and circulation staffs have embraced a variety of digital and social media platforms to reach new and existing readers, while continuing to present the news in the traditional print format.
But the modes of communication are not the most important change; that is in the way that the newspaper has greatly expanded its role as watchdog for the community.
Trust in our public institutions is on a steady decline, and sturdy journalism is going to be the only reliable way for average Americans to glean the truth from a stream of conflicting information disseminated by political partisans and vested interests.
In the past year, newspapers were the leading source of information on these stories of vital importance in their communities and nationwide:
— The Denver Post conveyed news via text, social media and video of the gunman who killed 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., while the tragic events still were occurring.
— The Tennessean in Nashville called attention to Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services’ inability to account for the deaths or near-deaths over a three-year period of approximately 200 children who were in custody or whose welfare was being monitored by the state. The reports led to the department head’s resignation and a restructure of the department.
— An investigation by The Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., uncovered widespread cases of off-duty police officers’ reckless driving.
In each case, the newspaper looked its role as a voice for the entire community it serves.
Despite all the obituaries being written about newspapers, we look at these examples and many more and find that newspapers are amazingly spry and alert — and always at work.
Ted R. Rayburn is the Editorial Page Editor for The Tennessean in Nashville, Tenn.