Guest Commentary: Missed communication could be the death of us

Many, many years ago, the only uncle I ever had told me to get into mass communication when I grew up. He said this was the “coming field” for young people.

I may have been 10 at the time, and his words came as a surprise.

Many years went by. I can’t put a finger on when it “happened,” but involved I have been. Still am, for that matter.

My career path has mainly involved broadcasting — both radio and TV, some 60 years of them with a bit of newspapering on the side. And, I’ve loved every minute!

But something is happening in the mass media all over the country. Something terribly disappointing for a practicing journalist. Something that saddens those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have had careers in the field, and saddens me as a citizen.

Newspapers in communities large and small are either ending their press runs on their own or are being bought out and dismantled. Some are going to the I-net, some just being allowed to die out entirely.

Local news is being lost in many places. In others, “local reporting” has been cut way back.

Those who get their news from national publications or radio and TV may feel they’re still being informed. And for some people, that’s OK. Headlines and brief broadcast stories seem good enough for them.

But for local news enthusiasts, something real — something very important — is missing.

Stories that used to come out of city hall or the county commission. Police activities involving crime in the community. Local weather reporting. Hometown advertising.

Stories about local planning and zoning issues that may affect your property. Stories about politics and business, births and deaths, all manner of local doings.

The loss of a local paper may seem just a passing event that doesn’t affect you. It may not seem important.

But it does affect you. And it is important.

Has your hometown ever been faced with an important local political decision you needed to research? Have you ever missed an important community or athletic event because you didn’t learn of it in time?

Did you know your city council or county commission just raised your property taxes? Did you hear about the major local employer or retailer who went out of business? Did you know a local car dealer was having a big sale?

We live in a town of about 35,000.

It has no local TV, just one small radio station and one newspaper — a family-owned newspaper having to compete with major market radio and TV, the I-net, social media and all the rest of the media sphere. And it’s trying its best to stay in business.

Now twice-weekly in both print and digital forms, it is cutting back the print edition to once a week and launching a third weekly e-edition to help fill the void. It is trying to keep the doors open without laying off staff, doing whatever it can to keep from joining so many small newspapers whose mastheads have disappeared.

You may enjoy national and major market print and broadcast outlets, but they are not going to report what’s happening at city hall or the county courthouse. They won’t be checking in daily with local law enforcement, picking up the local advertising you have now or reporting on community events in your town.

That uncle of mine was right about mass communications being the “wave of the future.” Surprisingly right. But that was 70 years ago.

We can’t let what’s left of mass communications replace what’s left of local communications. We need — indeed, we must have — local information.

On-your-street local information is vital to daily life. In many towns, the loss of a local newspaper means loss of the connections needed to stay viable and thriving.

There are times in our lives when bigger isn’t better, when “one-size-fits-all” threatens the fiber of community. Your local newspaper is that damned important!

Barrett Rainey is an Air Force veteran, longtime pilot and former reporter for radio and TV stations from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Washington, D.C. Now making his home in McMinnville, he writes a weekly column for the Carlton-based Ridenbaugh Press, where this column originated.


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