Commentary by: Jacqueline Bennett 031


Over the weekend I was out-of-town and stopped into a grocery store where, as I always do, I went in search of the newspaper rack. I found a three-tiered rack with the state newspaper and New York Times on the top shelf, the Boston Globe on the second shelf and tucked on the bottom shelf  in the left hand corner, barely visible, was the local newspaper.

I am proud to say I have written for both the New York Times and the Boston Globe. As well, I have a writing assignment on tap with a nationally circulated periodical.

That said, most of my career in journalism has been spent as a local newspaper reporter. This translates into countless hours at town halls covering council meetings, boards of education, planning and zoning commissions, as well as, all of their sub-committees, covering  political elections and dropping everything and rushing to cover breaking events. At times it has meant being in risky situations with folks who did not want a reporter present; other times it has meant covering festivals, art gallery and new business openings; charity fundraisers and more. Most of all, it means telling people’s stories.

News often begins at the grassroots level thanks to astute and dedicated local print reporters. It is from that point that stories are frequently picked up by larger news organizations.

Yet nine out of ten times, when I check on newspaper racks, the local paper – if a community is still fortunate enough to have one these days -is delegated to the bottom of the pile – easy to overlook. It is shabby treatment that speaks to a lack of appreciation. As too many communities have learned when the local paper closes no one is there to tell some of their stories.

If it comes down to fees being paid by larger newspapers for those top spots, then I would appeal to retailers to, themselves, provide high visibility space for local newspapers.

A few years back when local papers were dropping like flies as people increasingly turned to the Internet for news, I recall reading – yes, in a newspaper – about a former member of a town commission in the Massachusetts Berkshires. Upset with how he said commission matters were being mishandled he made a very public speech about his feelings at a meeting of the commission, then resigned on the spot.

Time was when what he had to say would have made headlines. However he noted, his action had no impact because the local paper had closed and no one was there to tell his story.

No one else cared, the way a local reporter would have cared. It did not matter to larger papers, the way it would have mattered to a local newspaper.

I am a fan of newspapers in general. In addition to what I read on-line, I still love the feel of a newspaper in my hands.

When reading a newspaper I believe one is exposed to information beyond the stories that he/she would click onto via computer. Those clicks can also apparently be traced which leads to a question of privacy. One cannot help but wonder what fate would have been met by the “Sons of Liberty” and their planning of the American Revolution if every piece of information they read could have been tracked through clicks on a computer.

There is an element of preserving participatory democracy that comes with preservation of local newspapers with a pulse on the towns they cover, reporting on issues that might otherwise be deemed mundane or simply slip by unnoticed.

Truth be told, those who decided to read my commentary probably already want to support local news. Therefore, I may be preaching to the choir but I will say it anyway, read local newspapers. Buy them, pass them on, rant about what you read, write letters to the editor.

If you value local newspapers, show it.