It’s more about you than us
My mid-1960s newspaper route had 105 customers along an East End of Williamsport corridor that included just about every house on Elizabeth Street and Franklin Street and all points in between.
The intersection of demand and enterprise called me to attempt expansion by recruiting residents on the fringes of my route who needed only to be asked if they wanted the black-and-white, printed product I was selling.
I was told by the circulation department to stop, as I was infringing on a boundary plan designating customer rights for each carrier. The penetration was that complete.
Fast forward a half century and we are traveling through Amish-accented Elimsport eight days ago to find a Sun-Gazette tube with the mailbox at a country road intersection.
So there is still a demand for the online-and-printed color newspaper you are reading.
But the realities brought on by the explosion in information access have been tough on small city newspapers, and it would be insulting to try to convince you otherwise.
There are now 200 counties in this nation that do not have a newspaper.
And there are probably about 200 reasons why that is so.
Not only are we not the only game in town anymore, we are the game some people have decided is not cool to play.
Those would be the people who click on a search item on the Internet, or read a 280-character tweet, or half-listen to a 10-second teleprompted headline and continue on their merry way, satisfied they know the news of the day.
If we had a gravesite, they would be dancing on it without a care in the world.
You need to pray they don’t get to do that dance. And the prayer should be not for us, but for yourself.
To begin with, who is the editor of the Internet? There are a thousand embarrassing information bias incidents and false stories a month to demonstrate the answer to that is “no one.” That has been the problem from the start.
The issue isn’t that we are not the only game in town. The issue is that no one plays the game of information the way we do. I say that with no disrespect for the thousands of people in other communication venues who do a solid, professional job.
I have been doing this for 44 years. It’s easy to do it poorly and difficult to do it in a thorough, objective, informative way. Much of what passes for the national media product these days proves that.
Whether it is an online or print product, only a newspaper, even with our faults, is structured to fulfill the thorough-objective-informative format. And that is especially true in markets the size of our region.
That does not mean there is not room for radio or television or online web sites to be part of anyone’s daily information package. That does not mean there is not room for commentary and opinion in all venues, with some of it unapologetically left leaning or right leaning.
But who is going to print the question-and-answer transcripts of election candidates this October, so you can make an informed choice based on more than an ad agency’s idea of campaigning?
Who is printing graduation lists and honor rolls and the wedding, anniversary and engagement announcements?
Who is following the high school teams that run through the state basketball, football, softball or baseball playoffs, with previews and game stories and box scores?
Who is game planning daily local news coverage, including hundreds of meetings and events a month that no one else can get to in an area that stretches to the New York State border?
Whether you use that information for grandson Johnny’s scrapbook with pasted news clippings or an online remembrance, there’s only one place providing all that material.
If you still don’t think it matters that newspapers thrive in the future, consider a world without accountability for the elected people who represent you. The overriding majority of them that I have met, interviewed, criticized and complimented over the years are good people who sincerely think of public representation as a calling.
But they also are human beings. And we humans, in a world without any accountability, become less than our best selves. That starts when we are children and mom does not nag us to clean up our room and continues whether our lives evolve into newspaper editors or mayors or township supervisors.
Someone has to keep doing the nagging on your behalf.
A future without that is one that begs for inadequate public conversation, uninformed communities and a dangerous invitation for unaccountable public representation.
We are all better than that. I have faith most people realize this product is more about them than us.
David F. Troisi is former editor of the Sun-Gazette.