OP-ED: Communities need their newspapers,
and newspapers need their community
BY JUDY PATRICK
From afar, the COVID-19 pandemic
is generating news of such
terrifying magnitude that it is
nearly too overwhelming to comprehend.
Millions are suffering and
thousands are dying. Economies
are collapsing. The world seems out
That’s the big picture, which you
can learn about from innumerable
print, web and broadcast news outlets.
But it’s in the pages of local
newspapers that this terrible news
Through stories of sickness and
of death, of brave healthcare workers
and struggling small business
owners, local journalists are documenting
In hard-hit New York City, dozens
of local newspapers are chronicling
the challenges neighborhood by
neighborhood. As the virus spreads
beyond metropolitan New York, the
chronicling extends, paper by paper.
In each, above all are the stories
of the lives that have been lost,
touching tributes to much loved
grandfathers and grandmothers,
principals and store clerks, police
officers and nurses.
BRONX TIMES R 12 EPORTER, APR. 17-23, 2020 BTR
Next come the stories of isolation
and loss as the life of a community
is put on hold: Funerals, weddings,
Little League baseball, high school
proms, senior citizen trips and college
graduations. The list goes on
Finally come are the tales of
generosity and hope, of thousands
of rainbows hung in windows and
drawn in chalk on sidewalks, of
food drives for the aff licted, of music
and art and of the million small
kindnesses of one person to another.
Years from now, these stories
will be part of the historical record
of this pandemic. Right now,
however, they serve a far greater
purpose: They are helping communities
come together to mourn, to
support and to hope. To eventually
go forward and heal, we first need
to understand what is happening
to the people we know and the businesses
we rely on.
Local newspapers are also where
many stories begin. Here you’ll
learn about upstate dairy farmers
forced to dump milk, how Finger
Lakes wineries are adapting to
the shutdown, the slow startup to
the federal small business stimulus
program on the East End of Long Island,
the re-tooling of a Granville
slate company to make face shields
for healthcare workers and efforts
to safeguard our food supply chain
by protecting farmland.
These are the stories that set
local newspapers apart from anything
you’ll see and read via bigger
outlets. Each paper is telling its
community’s unique set of stories
about death and heroism and struggle.
And for communities in crisis,
this personalization is key to grappling
with this pandemic.
There are practical benefits as
well. In times of crisis, local newspapers
have long been a clearinghouse
of essential information such
as phone numbers, emergency food
distribution plans, road closures
and boil water orders. Nowadays,
with much of this information scattered
online, newspapers are adapting
and collating. Take The Daily
News and Livingston County News
in Batavia, for example. They’ve established
a COVID-19 Community
Support Map pinpointing locations
of blood drives, food pickup spots
and medical services. The map
quickly became the most popular
feature on the paper’s website.
All of this is how local newspapers
bring communities together.
It’s just one reason they’re so important.
While their watchdog role in
sustaining our democracy will always
be paramount, and one that’s
become a crucial part of the ongoing
story, this shared commitment
to community is shining right now.
Local newspapers care – always
have and always will. It’s what
sets them apart from all other media,
even Facebook. They will be at
the zoning board meeting you care
about, at your Fourth of July parade
and your high school graduation.
They will write about the kindergarten
class trip to the pumpkin
farm as well as the school budget,
food banks for the hungry as well
as which takeout joint has the best
They’ve been around so long it’s
easy to take them for granted. But
they are in danger, especially now
that local businesses that provide
crucial advertising revenue have
There’s a lot of news you can access
for free. Many local newspapers
have even temporarily dropped
their paywalls on their virus-related
content. The gesture ref lects
their mission to go above and beyond
to serve their communities in
a time of crisis.
But news really isn’t free. It’s
costly to produce. Reporters, photographers,
editors, printers, advertising
support staff deserve and need a
paycheck for the work they do. To
do that, newspapers need the people
in those Fourth of July parades
and at those school board meetings
to subscribe. Now, more than ever,
they need their communities.
Judy Patrick is the vice president
for editorial development for the New
York Press Association.
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