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Newspapers: A bridge to the community

POSTED September 16, 2011 8:03 p.m.

I am one of the fortunate people who do not fear public speaking. When you put me in front of a captive audience and ask me to talk about one of my passions — like community newspapers — watch out, I might just talk your ear off.

California State University, Stanislaus professor Elizabeth Breshears offered me just such an opportunity this week. I was asked to speak to her graduate social work students about the role newspapers play in the community and why that is important to social workers.

I was delighted to speak to her students, as I am at any opportunity to enlighten others about the key role that newspapers play. The questions and comments I received during my speech made me realize, however, that many people in today’s electronic world forget the benefits of a community newspaper.

Like I told the students, without newspapers many local government bodies would go unmonitored. Web-only news organizations rarely have the resources to send reporters to each and every government meeting.

Without reporters attending the usually quite boring meetings, the city council could decide to allow a nuclear power plant to open in the downtown area or chewing gum in public could be outlawed. Just look at what the City of Bell officials got away with before newspaper reporters caught on to their illegal hijinks.

In June 2010, The Los Angeles Times revealed that leaders of the small southern Los Angeles County town — which has a population under 40,000 — were getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars more than what their counterparts in metropolitan cities earned.

Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo was making more than $787,000 a year, Police Chief Randy Adams $457,000 and most of the City Council close to $100,000 each, according to The Times.

The Times' stories sparked legislative reform efforts aimed at public pay and pension abuses, including a bill that would require California's city, county and schools officials to disclose their compensation online.

That right there is the power of the press in action.

Other than keeping an eye on elected officials and public agencies, newspapers also are a bridge to the community. They connect the reader with local organizations, events, people and issues. There is no better way to get to know a town than by reading the local newspaper.

During my speech at the university, I picked out specific issues that might interest social workers and students. I talked about the Journal’s coverage of Senate Bill 2 and its ramifications for local homeless people and organizations who serve that population. I also asked what the students thought about the protest held on campus by the CSUS employees who were opposed to recent layoffs.

Not many of the students knew about these issues, but they were interested and wanted to know more. One student was excited to hear that the Turlock City Council recently voted to expedite the process of obtaining a taxi license in town. He had been stranded at the Amtrak station in Denair with no way to get back to Turlock because there were no taxis.

These local issues are not regularly covered by electronic media sources — or national news organizations. The only way to find out what is going on in a community is to read the local newspaper.

Another role of community newspapers is to spread the good news. Many people in town read the newspaper only for the positive stories about local people and organizations. That is why we regularly publish feature stories — such as the Sept. 14 article about the Children’s Crisis Center Verda’s House and today’s story about the Pitman High marching band being selected to play in the 2012 National Independence Day Parade in Washington D.C.

Hopefully by the end of my speech I had convinced at least a few CSUS students that newspapers are still a much-needed resource in the community. (And, hopefully, I also convinced a few of you to renew your subscriptions!)

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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