Your community, your newspaper, your life

From time to time people ask me how the paper is doing. They see reports about major metropolitan newspapers struggling and going through bankruptcy, they note the shape of the economy and assume that we’re a dying business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the news business is changing, but one thing remains constant...Our commitment to the community.

This is National Newspaper Week, a time when our industry celebrates what makes us a part of the life of the community. To celebrate, we include a portion of a newspaper column by Jim Zachary, a newspaper veteran who has championed government transparency. He is the editor of the Clayton News Daily and the Henry Daily Herald in metro Atlanta, GA, and director of The Tennessee Transparency Project. —Chuck Kajer

As newspaper executives struggle over whether the news should be digital first, tablet first, SMS first or print first, readers know exactly what they want their local newspaper to be — community first.

Reading a newspaper is not like reading a novel, a magazine, a history book, poetry, prose or any other type of literature. Newspapers are not about what has happened in the past, what is happening someplace else, or what happens in an author’s imagination.

Newspapers are about us.

Newspapers are about our child’s first school field trip, a Friday night high school football game, a livestock show hosted by the agriculture extension office or an increase in our property tax rate. At least those are the things that a relevant newspaper is all about — whether you read it online, or sit down with a morning cup of coffee and enjoy the traditional printed edition the way it was meant to be.

Newspapers — viable, strong, growing, thriving newspapers — are all about the communities they serve.

Sure, in the interest of transparency, some newspapers have struggled in recent years. Many more are growing. So, what’s the difference between the newspapers on a downward spiral and those that are adding days of publication, adding staff, and printing more sections and pages than ever before? Really, it is not all that complicated. In fact, it is rather basic.

The difference is community.

Newspapers, like any business or individual, will always struggle when they stop doing the things they do well. In a quest to be more modern, to be more business savvy, or to use more silicon, we cannot lose sight of the single most important characteristic and historically important aspect of a quality newspaper — you, our readers.

We hold public officials accountable, advocate for openness in government and champion the cause of ordinary citizens because we are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, county and coverage area we serve.

Watered-down editorial pages, articles that read like a public relations campaign for government, and page after page of wire service content will never resonate in the same way as celebrating our own community and standing up for its citizens.

Newspapers hold public officials accountable because it makes the place we call home a better place to live and because it is the right thing to do.

The newspaper belongs to the community. That is why we work every day to give citizens a voice, to empower them and tell their stories. That is why we hold government accountable because, at our very core, we believe that government belongs to the governed and not to the governing. That is why we embrace the newspaper’s role as the Fourth Estate.

Great newspapers, relevant newspapers that are embraced by their communities and consequently profitable, growing newspapers have not forgotten that role and have not abandoned these values.

We are not the enemy of government — rather we are the champions of citizens, of our community.

Newspapers, the good ones, still make a difference in the communities they serve.

As newspaper reporters, editors and staff, we have the daily, or weekly, opportunity to do something — something that matters to our community and in all of our lives.

As long as people still read, still care about their quality of life, still love the place they call home and still pay taxes, newspapers that retain their role as the Fourth Estate and that celebrate the lives of ordinary people will remain relevant, will matter to the community and be a part of your everyday life.