Cook on Concord: Daily newspapers cannot be replaced
The Rocky Mountain News, one of two statewide papers in Colorado, recently published its last edition and closed. At the same time, scores of other local daily newspapers either have closed or are rumored to be ready to file for bankruptcy or cease publication. These include newspapers in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and other major cities.
In New Hampshire, while no daily newspaper has ceased publication, the Argus Champion, a venerable weekly publication in Newport, stopped operations last year, depriving the Sunapee region of a source of news.
While, as Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone,” I think people understand what they have with daily newspapers, but they should not take them for granted.
Competition from the Internet, various electronic advertising sources, blogs, radio and general impatience and the pace of life all pose challenges to daily newspapers. But it is important to understand their value.
To a large extent, daily newspapers give a common denominator to the communities they serve. The New Hampshire Union Leader is a statewide paper and lets people all over New Hampshire have the same information on a daily basis. Whether they agree with its editorials and columnists or not, it is important to the community we call New Hampshire to have a common source of information and news so that people are using a standard set of information.
Likewise, a paper like The New York Times brings a world of information to its readers as well as other opinions. Again, one does not have to agree with the editorials to understand the value. Perhaps most important, newspapers keep government under watch and criticism, and treat officials with healthy skepticism.
Think about what not having a daily newspaper would mean. Among the features lacking would be obituaries. Missing notice of the passing of others whom we know or know about or who have connection with friends or colleagues would deprive us of the opportunity to express condolences, share a thought or write a note, making the world a colder place. Similarly, the news items we are not looking for but catch our eye provide a wealth of understanding and a breadth of knowledge.
If we did not have local or state daily newspapers, the only source of information in daily written form would be something like USA Today, that lowest common denominator of publications found outside the doors of many hotels. It reports a lot about things in general, but nothing of particular local interest, reserving news of New Hampshire to one paragraph on a page in which there are 50 such paragraphs.
Daily newspapers provide the record of our times and history on a day-to-day basis. If we did not have them for research purposes, a clear view of the thoughts of the day would not be as readily available, if at all.
Those who claim that daily newspapers are becoming passé because of the new electronic media miss the fundamental value of daily publications. All of the reasons set forth above merely scratch the surface. People have a tendency to look at blogs and use the Internet to find things they know they are looking for. By “shooting with a rife” in seeking a particular piece of information or a particular story, they miss all of the other information that jumps out at them when turning the pages of their daily newspaper.
Daily newspapers have a lot of other advantages, including the advertising, learning about sales, coupons, bargains, legal notices, employment and real estate ads, etc. While these might be available elsewhere, having them in one place is much more convenient.
On Sunday, of course, people used to have the luxury of a couple of hours to read through a fat, multi-sectioned newspaper. Recently, I started buying the Sunday New York Times again and became reacquainted with the luxury afforded to the reader who has time to look through all of the sections.
While it costs $5 a copy to buy The New York Times Sunday paper in New Hampshire, it is worth it.
The point is our daily newspapers are struggling. Not having them survive would be a true crisis. They need our support, and that support comes from buying them, reading them, commenting on them, passing them on, advertising in them and cooperating with them. They can infuriate, they can flatter, they can be the subject of scorn, but if they disappear, the fabric of our communities, the records of our activities and the opportunity to learn things we did not know we needed to know will disappear — and that would be a tragedy for a democratic society.
Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.