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Your eyes and ears

POSTED September 8, 2009 10:50 p.m.
Lately, I feel a little bit like a shoemaker.
Shoemakers used to be important tradespeople in every town in America until the industrial revolution made their jobs obsolete. I imagine shoemakers across the country talked about the end of their profession in guild meetings and in trade newsletters in the 1900s. Newspapers probably had headlines like “Cobblers clobbered by machines.”
This same doomsday talk has been reported far and wide about my trade, the newspaper business. Although I am about tired of reading in newspapers and news magazines that nobody will be reading newspapers and magazines soon, I did read one interesting industry report. The headline of the cover story of the June/July issue of American Journalism Review read “Cities Without Newspapers: What would be the cost to democracy? What would fill the gap?”
The eight-page story investigated the state of the newspaper business today, with a look at the affects, if any, the recent closing of newspapers had on communities. While the focus of the story was on major cities, not big cities like Turlock, I think some of the research findings translate.
Princeton economist Sam Schulhofer-Wohl and his colleague Miguel Garrido looked at the impact of the closing of The Cincinnati Post and its Kentucky Post edition in northern Kentucky suburbs. They found that after the closings of the papers, the number of people voting in elections and the number of candidates for city council, city commission and school board decreased in those areas.
“What most surprised me is I actually did find evidence that newspapers matter,” said Schulhofer-Wohl, in the American Journalism Review story.
Schulhofer-Wohl and Garrido’s findings do not surprise me at all. Getting information about local government out to the people is one of the most important things a community newspaper does.
Especially in today’s economic climate, local governments do not have the funds to publicize every new program or change through mailers. Newspapers get the information to the public. Newspapers are also the people’s ears at government meetings.
At the average Turlock City Council meeting — excluding meetings where there is a vote on the Carnegie Arts Center or homeless funding — there are about 20 to 40 people in attendance. On Tuesday, there were 13 people in the audience. A Journal reporter is frequently the only one in attendance at Turlock Planning Commission meetings, Parks and Recreation Commission meetings and Arts Commission meetings. There are close to 70,000 people in this town, which means less than .05 percent of the population attends city government meetings.
If newspapers ceased to exist, the City Council could decide to make Turlock the Nuclear Reactor Capital of the World and give building permits to a dozen new nuclear power plants. Nobody would know what was going on until their dogs started glowing in the dark and the Turlock skyline was dwarfed by concrete.
I admit that scenario is a little far fetched, but you see my point, right? If there isn’t someone watching our elected officials, then who knows what might be going on. The public relies on newspapers to go the meetings they don’t have the time to attend. They rely on newspapers to let them know about upcoming elections and important community events.
So don’t let newspapers go the way of shoemakers, because newspapers play a vital role in our community.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004

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