Thursday, June 11, 2009

By "Free Press" we don't mean it shouldn't cost anything...

One of my favorite morning routines involves coffee and the newspaper. Typically, just before I set out to walk Scout Labradoodle, I set up the coffee maker and set the timer so the brewing cycle will have just completed when we return. Forty-five minutes later I pour two mugs, tuck the newspaper under my arm, and head back to wake Rebekah.

We spend the next 30 minutes or so reading up on the news, planning our day, and sipping hot java - this morning it was Sumatran. It's a good way to get going together.

I can't help but think about what we will have all lost the day the newspapers finally close up shop. There are many reasons so many are going belly-up, one regional market at a time. But I believe the primary culprit is our lack of understanding as to the critical importance of good reporting, incisive commentary and a consistent community forum.

It's the FREE PRESS, people, it's foundational to our liberty, and it's about a lot more than selling enough advertising to support the editorial content.

Take my newspaper columns, for example. I often reference current events and include a lot of social commentary... but I piggy-back on the irreplaceable work of reporters who track down fact, ferret out murky stories, push at the halls of power until they get to the bottom of the truth, and variously do what it takes to hold feet to the fire (that's a heinous expression, by the way) in the cause of keeping information flowing freely, out in the open, and accessible for public review.

When I do get out there and do some actual legwork myself, it always amazes me how much in the way of hours, phone calls, research, interviews, document searches etc. it takes to generate one 800 word article. You can't get in-depth reporting for free on the Internet, just because some writer has a blog. It takes salaries and professional training and standards and editors and news bureaus and overseas correspondents - Stuff, like it or not, that does not pay for itself.

If we allow traditional news organizations to die because we, as a people, don't want to ante-up anymore for our morning newspaper, we'll be shooting ourselves in the foot. The eventual cost of such disinterest is going to be possibly more than we can bear... or more than democracy can afford to be without... or maybe we'll remember our history, and our values, and our forefathers/mothers, and the constitution, and something of the cost....

I'm just saying.

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