RIP Havelock News: 1986-2020. A small, community weekly newspaper, the Havelock News, has bit the dust. It stopped publication after its Dec. 3 edition. It’s another nail in the coffin of local media.
And it’s not the only weekly paper to go silent. Poynter.org reported in the Dec. 18, 2020, edition of the magazine The Week, “During the past 16 years, thousands of newspapers across the US – most of them weeklies – have shut down, with the losses growing during the pandemic. Research shows that when the lone provider of local news in a community is lost, voter participation sinks and taxes rise.”
I wrote a bimonthly opinion column for the Havelock News for almost 20 years. It’s hard not to miss stepping up on that soapbox every other week.
Change is hard. Still, we might agree that, overall, change is positive … that change has advanced humanity. It’s hard to find positives, though, with print media’s uncontrolled dwindling. It’s too early to tell what the rise in social media and the demise of local newspapers will mean for our democratic republic, a form of government founded on the need for an educated, knowledgeable, electorate and a widely available and free press. But we should care that caring is one victim of local media’s demise.
An old but wise communication adage is that caring is a communication skill. One issue certain to affect us is caring or actually, rather, lack thereof. Many are talking more now about caring, whether it’s kindness, civil discourse or politeness, but with the demise of local papers we’re losing an essential aspect of how we care. Social media cares less about local issues than local newspapers, papers mostly employing local reporters, writers and editors. Like the Tideland News.
It’s just natural. How does one really care about a town like Swansboro if one doesn’t live in or nearby it? How can one care about local sports teams or local politics or local taxes or the obituaries of neighbors if one doesn’t live anywhere near the locality … is not impacted in the least by what goes on in the community? The hard truth is one doesn’t care.
Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, in a Dec. 15, 2020, article entitled Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine wrote, “The pre-social web destroyed classified ads, but the one-two punch of Facebook and Google decimated local news and most of the magazine industry. No news organization can compete with the megascale of the social web. It’s just too massive.”
I don’t know if Ms. LaFrance is right or not about Facebook and Doomsday; young people tend to speak in hyperbole far more than I. But uncaring social media, in general, has certainly been hard on local media.
According to a study by UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, “In only two decades, successive technological and economic assaults have destroyed the for-profit business model that sustained local journalism in this country for two centuries. Hundreds of news organizations have vanished. By early 2020, many survivors were hanging on by the slimmest of profit margins. Then, the coronavirus hit.” The study continues, “In the 15 years leading up to 2020, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities – inner-city neighborhoods, suburban towns and rural villages – living in vast news deserts.”
A few facts shared in the study:
• Since 2004, the United States has lost 70 dailies and more than 2,000 weeklies or nondailies.
• At end of 2019, the United States had 6,700 newspapers, down from almost 9,000 in 2004.
• Today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues. Half of the counties have only one newspaper, and two-thirds do not have a daily newspaper.
• Many communities that lost newspapers were the most vulnerable – struggling economically and isolated.
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” according to poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980). If the universe is made of stories, especially local ones that have – or should have – the most actual meaning to the reader or listener, then distant, uncaring, social media … and even writers and editors of surviving papers who live far away from the regions, cities and towns about which they’re writing or editing for that matter … well, social media is silencing the universe.
And if indeed, “All politics is local,” as Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is credited with saying, that means we deeply need the Tideland (and the Havelock News and the Carteret County News-Times) and a host of other papers that are either challenged or are gone (like the Jones Post and the Beaufort Gam, you name them).
If it seems as if I’m shamelessly promoting our local, weekly paper, the Tideland News, you’re right. For the Tideland to survive, we must support it with our subscriptions.
This is one of those few either-ors in life. It’s black or white. Either we support the Tideland or it, too like the Havelock News, will be gone. Am I biased? You’re damn right I am. The Tideland reports the local issues I am (and should be) – as a local – most concerned about. And if you’ll forgive me for lecturing just a bit, so should you.
Tideland News contributor Barry Fetzer writes from his home on Queens Creek.