Braxton Citizens' News, Opinion

You’ll miss us if we’re gone.

A loyal reader recently sent me a copy of an editorial that appeared in the December 2 issue of the Dominion Post. The article has some excellent points that I believe are worth sharing so here we go…

West Virginia is surprisingly lucky when it comes to local news: All but two of our 55 counties have some kind of local publication, according to recent research by Northwestern University and the Medill Local News Initiative.

The good news: With the exception of Putnam and Marshall counties, all of West Virginia has access to at least one non-television local news source. A handful of places, including Mon and Preston counties, have access to two, and Kanawha County has three.

By the numbers, West Virginia has 64 newspapers that print either daily or weekly, plus West Virginia Public Broadcasting and two online-only news providers, for a total 67 publications. Not bad for one of America’s most rural and least populated states.

Granted, just because there is a newspaper available in a county doesn’t mean everyone can and does get it. Some of the more rural areas may not be able to have it home-delivered, but at least residents can still pick up a copy in town. That’s better than the true news deserts some regions face, where there are no local news sources.

Which brings us to the bad news: Most West Virginia counties are at risk of becoming news deserts. Since many counties only have one publication, if that newspaper goes under, there will be no local news left. Unfortunately, the nation is on track to lose one-third of its remaining local papers by the end of next year — and what’s left may be little more than a “ghost paper” without the resources or staff to produce original content. Sure, just about anyone with a TV can pick up regional CBS, FOX or NBC affiliate stations, but those will largely focus on their closest metropolitan areas. 

Research shows that in communities without local newspapers, “government corruption and government costs increase, officials conduct themselves with less integrity and efficiency,” in the words of PEN America’s Viktorya Vilk. Civic engagement also decreases, as people lose access to information about elections and elected officials that doesn’t come from campaign ads.

By that same token, the loss of local news actually drives political division. When all we have to rely on is the national news — which tends to focus on national politics and crises — we lose sight of the common bonds and interests that bring us together.           

Local publications can’t survive without subscribers and advertisers. Just as local papers keep communities connected, the communities keep papers afloat.

If you’re reading this, then there’s a very good chance you already support your local newspaper. Thank you!

If you’d like to do more to support your local newspaper, there are a few things you can do — for free! If you have social media, share posts and news articles from your newspaper. This helps the paper reach a wider audience. Or, even better, tell friends and family how much you enjoy your hometown news and encourage them to subscribe, too.

To paraphrase our former publisher Dave Raese: You’ll miss us if we’re gone.