EDITORIAL: Why read a newspaper?

YOU PROBABLY HAVE some shopping to do. It happens this time of year. There’s so much happening. You need a break. But it’s hard to find someplace reliably warm, safe and affordable. So here you are reading the newspaper. Good choice.

There is plenty of bad news the newspaper industry these days and a few bright spots too. Papers are closing. The University of North Carolina Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media found that between 2004 and 2018 the number of newspapers in the U.S. had decreased by nearly 1,800 papers and that many of the remaining ones have been acquired by private investment firms with little commitment to community journalism.

In that same period “non-daily” newspapers nationwide saw a 60% drop in readers. So far, we’re bucking the trend. Our readership has grown. We don’t have research that explains our increase in paid circulation, but recently we heard about a study that suggests a good reason to live in a place that has a local newspaper.

National Public Radio reported a few days ago that having a local newspaper can save a community some money. Research done by NPR showed that towns or other municipalities in Colorado where there are local newspapers have paid lower interest rates when they needed to borrow money.

It’s only a small difference in the rate–about a tenth of a percent–but when a municipality like a town or a school district borrows, let’s just say, $27.5 million and it’s compounded over 15 years, that tenth of a percent difference adds up to tens of thousands of dollars saved by taxpayers of the municipality… if it has a local newspaper. And that’s just one loan. Multiply that by all the bonds that municipalities in a small county like Columbia issue each year and that fraction of a percent could add up to millions of dollars.

The reporters conducting the research say that when there is no local newspaper to hold local governments accountable, the local governments will be less efficient. If a municipality is less efficient, lenders treat that local government as a riskier borrower, and the lender charges a slightly higher interest rate to account for the risk.

It’s tempting to claim that the $27.5-million Ichabod Crane Central School District capital improvement ballot proposal approved last week by a slim margin, will cost taxpayers less if we hadn’t been around to cover it. But no one will ever know for sure.

Taxpayers could have obtained all the information we had in our stories if they sat through the hours of debate and discussion and read the documents that produced the capital improvement project budget. Few if anyone but school officials and our reporter, Deputy Publisher Emilia Teasdale, had the time or the stamina for that. If they wanted to know what happened they could read her stories.

The school district provided facts about the plan and a video presentation that showed the need for improvements. The video was appropriate but was necessarily biased in favor of validating problems and promoting the proposition. Private Facebook posts undoubtedly reached some voters, but you probably can’t convince a banker to give the school district a favorable interest rate based on the number of likes you have on your Facebook page.

We’re not going to sell papers based on a promise of the money-saving value of our reporting. We can’t even guarantee that government bodies will behave more efficiently just because a reporter attends a meeting. But we can deliver a mix of news stories, press releases, photos and timely local listings that inform your decisions. It’s all in one package each week…. Except, not next week.

This issue of The Columbia Paper is our annual Double Issue with our season-long winter calendar of events, “Happening This Winter.” You can take your time reading this double issue. The next date we publish will be our first issue of 2019 on January 3. The new year is significant because it will mark the beginning of our second decade in print. Just contemplating that reminds us we need a breather too.

We’re grateful to all our readers for your support. We hope the season and the new year are safe, peaceful and prosperous for you. And who knows, our determination to report the news might even contribute to realizing those wishes.

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