“Newspapers are dead,” a solemn but dubious audience of students heard. “In 10 years, they’ll be gone altogether.”
We’ve all heard the grim assessment.
But it didn’t come this year, when corporate greed downsized far too many newsrooms.
It didn’t come 15 years ago, when social media began to cocoon us into echo chambers that let us hear only what we believe.
It didn’t come 30 years ago, at the dawn of the Internet letting us browse multiple sources of information.
It didn’t come 45 years ago, when cable news channels began giving us talking heads, mouthing the same points over and over.
The grim assessment came 75 years ago, in a journalism class that my father, a 1948 graduate, attended as a college senior.
Newspapers, he was told, soon would be replaced by a new, high-tech alternative:
Yes, fax machines.
As Mark Twain would have noted, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. And it’s not because we’ve been turned into unkillable zombies.
We haven’t died because democracy needs us, and smart people nationwide know it.
If you have any doubts, look at the more than 10,000 messages of support we’ve received at the Marion County Record from all over the nation and world.
Along with those messages have come more than 5,000 orders for new subscriptions — not bad for a newspaper that had a press run of only 4,000 before police attempted to intimidate us and a local politician with coordinated raids later found to have been illegal.
They came at us like a SWAT team going after a jaywalker who actually was in a crosswalk at the time.
Now that the dust of seizing seven computers and four cell phones has settled, the truth has become clear.
Their raid wasn’t to investigate any crime, which never occurred. It was to put us in our place like a bunch of 300-pound defensive linemen smashing into a quarterback after he releases a pass.
Eventually, the legal system threw a flag on the play. But before that, people all over the globe — a quarter of a million of them who read about the raid on our website, plus countless others who read about it elsewhere — gasped in horror and demanded justice.
Speaking truth to power — the goal of every decent news organization — is just too important to our democracy.
Our computers may have been seized, but our newspaper — along with the unvarnished truth it seeks to impart every week — could not be silenced. If it had been, it wouldn’t have been a medium that died. It would have been democracy.
Democracy is, as Winston Churchill said, the worst form of government — except for all the others that have been tried.
Democracy requires truth and facts — and a willingness not just to listen to them but also to give voice to them.
That’s what newspapers do — asking questions when others are afraid to do so and providing truth that others seem reluctant to accept.
An old retort, intended as an insult, was that newspapers afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
But what’s wrong with that?
Democracy isn’t about Barney the Dinosaur singing, “I love you; you love me.”
Putting up a false façade of everyone agreeing about everything might work if every politician, every bureaucrat, every person in power was a benevolent dictator, caring only for everyone else’s well-being.
Ask the survivors of Nazi Germany or Putin’s Russia how that worked out.
True democracy isn’t neat and tidy. It’s about disagreement — everyone presenting his or her personal truths in a public arena, then coming together to compromise on something that is at least minimally satisfying to the majority while protecting the minority.
By their very nature, newspapers are charged with finding hidden facts, speaking for the voiceless, and arguing for those who cannot easily be heard.
To some in the Barney generation, that makes us negative.
To others, it makes us patriots.