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By Deanna Fanton

Confer Column: A struggling press is nothing to celebrate

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“Our country cannot survive without the local press”

By Bob Confer

This year has seen the Buffalo News continue its rather disconcerting transformation. Just a handful of years removed from seeing the Monday to Saturday editions lose an entire section and the Sunday paper having the Niagara Sunday section eliminated, we learned this past February of a significant change to how the news is printed. That process has been assigned to a facility in Cleveland, resulting in the loss of 160 WNY jobs that had put out a truly local paper. Also, you may have noticed long familiar by-lines no longer appear in the paper with any regularity or at all, those reporters seeing the writing on the wall, moving on to other pursuits to complement their reporting or retiring entirely.   

As this happens, if you look through Twitter or Facebook you will find hordes of people reveling in it. It’s always the usual schlock – the News is too liberal; it’s only fit to line bird cages; no one reads newspapers anymore; good riddance.

It’s always disheartening, and aggravating, to see such behavior. If you’re celebrating the end of the press, you’re celebrating the end of America.

Our country cannot survive without the local press, whether in the traditional print version or in the modern online style.

The strength and character of our constitutional republic is contingent upon an informed citizenry, which is why the forefathers found it necessary to recognize the value of the press in the First Amendment. News agencies — large and small, national and local — keep all levels of government in check by investigating improprieties, shining light on policy both active and proposed, and sharing the socioeconomic issues that force government and civic action. A good newspaper will educate, and hopefully inspire, the electors and the elected alike.

Take that away and what are you left with? For the most part, that void will be filled by questionable social media accounts, Facebook rumor mills, and, especially in regard to national issues, shady websites, many of which are created by political parties and biased sources that have their own special interests and not the interests of the masses at heart.

Newspapers and legitimate news websites, on the other hand, utilize reporters and editors who were trained in (and accountable to) integrity and how to get to the bottom of a story, and those newsrooms have the resources, employees, time and public trust to expose and/or expound upon the issues.

Your neighborhood news outlets also do so many more things at the local level that you cannot get from social media. They provide a single source that offers in-depth coverage of events and people in your community; promotion of the academic and athletic endeavors of your children; attendance at common council and school board meetings and public hearings that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit into your schedule; and popular updates like police reports and obituaries.

In the absence of a newspaper or website of similar journalistic ethics in your town, who has the time or ability to fill that void? The answer is simple: no one.

Don’t think that what is happening to the Buffalo News and other major metropolitan newspapers isn’t and can’t happen to those smaller papers. It’s like a plague that has taken over the country.

In Niagara County, for example, my beloved Lockport Union Sun and Journal and the Niagara Gazette don’t print every day and their sister newspapers – the Tonawanda News and Medina Journal-Register – had to close due to the economics of the industry. People genuinely miss those newspapers – I hear that quite often from local residents.

That same holds true in Allegany County where the Wellsville Daily Reporter closed its offices five years ago, following a history that dated back to 1880. More recently, the weekly Patriot and Free Press, which had served the county since 1862, announced a temporary, and quite possibly permanent, closure.

To keep the news alive, publishers have to be creative and, unfortunately, they have to break from tradition and/or write pink slips. Smaller papers, consolidations, not-so-daily newspapers, and newspaper alternatives are becoming standard practice. In many cases, the best of efforts can’t save the day: More than 2,500 local newspapers across the country have closed since 2005.

But, the fight for the press shouldn’t begin and end in their offices. We all have a say in it.

Businesses need to buy advertisements in print and online outlets.

Consumers need to purchase print or electronic subscriptions.

And, above all, we all need to recognize the value the press has and stop cheering the decline in newspapers’ sizes, profitability, and employment rolls.

It’s ignorant to do that, and an ignorant people we all will become without the press behind and before us.

No news is bad news.

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