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Karl Klooster: Staying on the same page

The term “on the same page” came into common usage not long after newspapers first appeared in Colonial America. Almost every city of over 1,000 population could boast at least a modest, regularly published periodical.

Citizens learned pertinent information about the communities in which they lived from these newspapers, many of which proved so popular they evolved from weeklies to bi-weeklies and tri-weeklies. In major cities, daily editions ultimately became the norm.

With a significant majority of the adult population reading their hometown paper, those who took an active interest in the well-being of their community were literally “on the same page.” They might agree or disagree, applaud or oppose issue and actions, but the publication’s reporters and editors conveyed the most recent accounts to its readers in an unbiased, factual manner.

Conversely, editorials and opinion columns departed, sometimes significantly, from straightforward reporting. But then, as now, publishers and on-staff pundits assumed full responsibility for the thoughts they put into words. Accountability has always been a hallmark of the industry, as has the opportunity for public response and rebuttal.

Over the course of the country’s growth through the 19th and into the 20th centuries, newspapers established themselves as the single most respected source of in-depth national, regional and local news. Until the advent of radio and then television, in cities large and small, it was the sole means by which citizens were kept apprised of local happenings, public and private, favorable and unfavorable.

Guest Writer

A published writer and commentator since 1975, Karl Klooster has authored two books on the history of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. He was the News-Register’s regional editor and wine columnist, as well as associate editor of Oregon Wine Press, until his retirement in 2015.

Nicknamed “The Fourth Estate” or independent, watchdog journalism by an 18th century English aristocrat, the newspaper publishing industry has lived up to the name, earning well-deserved respect for its investigative efforts and authoritative, balanced reporting on important issues of the day.

However, all media rely upon advertising revenue in order to stay in operation. With the rise of broadcast television in the 1960s, the media playing field began to change. A greater percentage of advertising budget allocations once enjoyed almost exclusively by newspapers, was redirected to the small screen.

With the proliferation of cable television in the 1990s, there was an even greater dispersion of promotional dollars, particularly for regional and local retailers who could now make smaller, more targeted audience buys not available from the networks. But, the only thing viewers receive and still do for their ever-increasing monthly fees is commercials interrupting the viewing content.

In recent years, changes in the manner of disseminating news have occurred more rapidly and drastically than ever. Within less than two decades, the Internet has emerged as the most powerful and pervasive communications medium on Earth.

Everything in the way of news and views, information and entertainment, is now available online. As a result, even smaller newspapers like the News-Register have found it necessary to create, activate and maintain their own websites.

These days, however, most younger adults spend much of their free time, or even some of their work time, on their smart phones and mobile devices. Unfortunately, relying entirely on the Internet does not provide them information about the community in which they, their families and friends live.

In-depth local news reporting on city and county government, education, controversial and pressing problems, accompanied by editorial commentary, remains the exclusive domain of small-town newspapers.

School sports, personality profiles, events and activities, as well as the more unsavory and sometimes sensational side of life — crimes and arrests, scandals and other misdeeds, in both the public and private sectors and more — can only be obtained from this single source.

As a consequence, many younger adults are not “on the same page” in their hometown. They have little, if any, knowledge of or influence over what goes on there even though they are often affected by it and, in the case of local government, even paying for it. For a few dollars a month, a local paper would return them ro the picture.

Although in recent years, circulation and revenues have declined for America’s once predominant news medium, that trend has been slowing and appears to be stabilizing if not, in some instances, even reversing itself.

According to the National Newspaper Association, in 2015, approximately 1,400 daily and more than 7,000 non-daily newspapers continued to serve their communities and beyond. Rural America has thus far seen the strongest support for local newspapers, but medium-sized communities such as McMinnville are also awakening to the value and importance of being “on the same page.”

Some might argue that bloggers have popped up to fill the news void. But the fact is, even qualified individuals can only adequately address one topic at a time and even then only if they are able to devote full time to the task. Consequently, little, if any, blogging commentary addressing a given local community’s activities and issues can be found online.

Next, there is the matter of second and even third eyes. This three-tier editing process is integral to newspaper content before the publication goes to press. Bloggers seldom have even one editor to double-check their work before they post. Being paid to do nothing but blog or edit, bloggers remain rare employment opportunities.

So, as it currently stands, there is no single place on the Internet one can go to obtain a full spectrum of news and information about any community, with the single exception of websites maintained by newspapers that subsidize those sites out of revenue from their printed product.

The fact remains that in order for even first rank, small-town newspapers like the News-Register to remain viable and continue to keep local citizens “on the same page,” those citizens must subscribe and local businesses must continue to realize the immense value of the product as a marketplace.

Keep in mind that advertisers’ selling messages in local newspapers and on their websites are being directed specifically to a prime target audience — the residents of the community they serve.

As for the communications wave of the future, until such time as the stand-alone, Internet equivalent of a newspaper can pencil out profitably, the printed version will have to. And that means it will have to be in the black.

So, to be concerned, aware and active participants in contributing to the betterment of our hometown, let’s support our local paper so we’ll all be able to stay on the same page.

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