Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 14, 2023

Book review: Importance of newspapers explored in two books

The thump hits your porch or mailbox, right on time.

Your newspaper is there when you want it, accompanying your coffee at breakfast, sitting by your sandwich at lunch or as a part of your post-supper relaxation. It’s also where you need it: at school board meetings, common council sessions and high school sports. If those aren’t reasons enough, these books tell you why you should support your local newspaper.

It’s no secret that newspapers struggle today, as they have since long before the pandemic. Years ago, large corporations gobbled up small newspapers and gutted their staffs; newsrooms were decimated by consolidation and buyouts.

In “Beacons in the Darkness,” author Dave Hoekstra says family-owned papers and independent publishers were sent “racing to the exit sign” and, as advertising fell and page-counts were slashed, some areas were left entirely without a newspaper.

This, Hoekstra indicates, is a problem for small towns.

“The quality of the life of the community,” he says, “can be directly affected by the level of involvement by the newspaper.”

Locally-owned newspapers “embed themselves into community.” They hold the history of people and the things they care about, serve as watchdogs for local government, dig for stories that need daylight and employ your neighbors.

To do this, they need flexibility. Today’s newspapers may go all-digital or print-digital hybrid. They set up pop-up newsstands. Some assume nonprofit status. Others reach for community involvement, and then keep doing what they do best: serve as the voice of the towns they’re in, and help to keep people informed on issues they need to know.

This is particularly important, say Greg Glassner, Charles Richardson, Sandra Sanchez and Jason Togyer, in this time of political partisanship and division. In their new book, “American Deadline,” they tell the tales of four towns that lost their newspapers during the pandemic, and how this vanishing is a problem for everyone.

Without a local newspaper – the kind that reports not just on big stories but also about local people and events – there’s often a void left that diminishes important conversations about essential issues. It’s easy, with no local newspaper, for people to become unaware of that which they need to know.

That’s especially dangerous when it comes to national news. Community newspapers thrive on reliability and reader trust. Without a newspaper in town, too many people may come to rely on unreliable sources for their news.

The four towns that serve as sets for this book are in the south and east; two lost their local newspapers entirely and two had vastly diminished staffs. This book, the stories of which made up an “experiment” in reporting, show how cities and towns suffered when several large news events happened and there was no one to record them.

Like any good feature story, these books are worth reading because they serve to remind readers why their parents and grandparents supported local news. If you care about your community, it’s time you do, too.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.