48 cents to be informed

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2020


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Do you care about what’s happening in this community?

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If you’re not subscribing to your local newspaper — this newspaper — then I would seriously question any “yes” answers.

This is a column I’ve started to write several times, then didn’t. As the publisher of this newspaper until November, I knew just as sure as I was sitting at the keyboard that there would be those who would see the column as self-serving — just trying to line his own pocket. And so I hesitated.

Well, no longer. I worked in local news for half a century, covering everything from catastrophic fires to bumper peanut crops. I know the value of this newspaper in the life of Isle of Wight and Surry Counties, and it’s a lot more than than the 48 cents-per-week subscription price.

I realize that if you’re reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. You either are a subscriber or you dropped three quarters in a paper box. Thank you. No, I’m not talking to anyone reading this column. Instead, I’m asking for your help. Tell a neighbor, a son or daughter, that they need to be reading their local paper. If they live somewhere else, they should be reading it there — if there is still one to read.

The chances are pretty good that there won’t be one in many communities. The cold, hard facts are that during the 14-year period between 2004 and 2018, (the last year the calculation was made) 1,800 newspapers closed in the United States. That’s one-fifth of all the papers in the country.

Here’s another fact to give you some idea of the trend. In 1970, 30 percent of all Americans read (or at least bought) a Sunday newspaper. In 2018, Sunday readership had dropped to 9 percent.

I am firmly convinced that any thoughtful American who is not reading at least one metropolitan daily newspaper is abdicating his or her responsibility as a citizen of this country, but that’s an argument for another day. Right now, let’s focus on “here,” meaning Isle of Wight and Surry, the coverage area of your local newspaper.

During the contentious debate last year over whether Isle of Wight County would host a juvenile detention facility, county residents, one after another, stood in Board of Supervisors’ meetings and said “I didn’t know” about plans for the facility until they were well along.

They were telling the truth. They didn’t know because they were not reading this newspaper, which published stories about the facility long before the public debate heated up.

Every time there are plans for a new development, neighbors will stand and protest that, “Nobody told me.” Yes, we did. You just didn’t read it.

There was a time when the Daily Press and the Virginian-Pilot both made a fairly serious effort to cover Isle of Wight County. The Daily Press even maintained a bureau here off and on until about a decade ago.

Those papers will still trot out someone for a major crime or weather story, and of course, the local television channels have always shown up if there was sufficient blood in the street.

But they don’t cover what’s happening locally. They don’t sit through Town Council meetings, write about the traffic snarls that are making it difficult for county residents to get to and from work every day. They don’t write about the very real, and important, debate over school construction or teacher salaries.

You can find some information about local government by reading local governments’ websites. There you will find what local government wants you to know. Or, you can read your local newspaper and learn what you really ought to know.

I challenge every person reading this column to find at least one other person who is not, and convincing them to subscribe to The Smithfield Times for a year.

Let’s be serious about supporting this newspaper and local journalism generally. Spend 48 cents a week and read the doggone paper. A local newspaper subscription says, simply, “I care.”