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Bear column: What happens if small market newspapers go away?

Like a lot of adults I knew in the ’60s, my dad watched “CBS News with Walter Cronkite” every weeknight. I sometimes watched it with him, and I was fascinated the by images of a big world that was far beyond the small city where I lived. Cronkite’s delivery was straightforward, and there was never a doubt that whatever he said was unequivocally true.

I felt the same way about the newspapers I read then — my hometown Greeley Tribune, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. As far as I was concerned, if a professional journalist wrote it, it had to be true.

The exception was the opinion page. Even at a young age I knew the difference between a news article and an opinion piece — news articles, I knew, were objectively true while opinion columns and letters to the editor were subjective, and not necessarily true.

I later learned about publications like “The National Enquirer,” which were merely sensationalized fiction.

These days, though, it seems like those three concepts — objective truth, subjective truth, and sensationalized fiction — have gotten mixed up into some kind of witch’s brew in the collective consciousness of Americans, who simply refer to that toxic concoction as, “The Media.”

That’s a problem, because while good journalists everywhere are doing their level best to report the facts of everything from small-town issues to national crises, there are far more media hacks trying to promote their brand by passing off their incendiary opinions, or outright lies, as fact.

I’ve been a journalist in towns and small cities for 17 years, and worked in seven different newsrooms with dozens of other journalists. Everywhere I’ve been my fellow journalists have been the same — tirelessly dedicated to telling the objective truth about local issues and national issues that directly affect the local community.

The journalists I know are pillars of integrity, and are motivated purely by the opportunity to share information that is important to the community. They don’t do it for the recognition, because nobody reads bylines anyway, and they certainly don’t do it for the money — no one’s getting rich working at a small newspaper.

But these days some people are accusing small market journalists of bias — both liberal and conservative — without a shred of evidence to support it.

All I can tell you is that, if my fellow journalists have political leanings, I wouldn’t know. Politics rarely come up in the newsroom, and when they do, no one is choosing sides. There’s an unspoken rule against it.

Some point to opinions expressed by columnists, (including this one) and letter writers on our opinion page, and attribute those opinions to the newspaper itself. It seems crazy to even have to explain this, but the opinions of columnists and letter writers are theirs alone, not those of the newspaper.

So how did we get here? How did opinion become so confused with fact that many cannot tell the difference?

Discerning viewers should know by now that cable news broadcasts like Fox News and MSNBC are biased, as is most talk radio. So the popularity of such broadcasts is contributing to the blurring of the line between truth and opinion. But social media is far worse.

Social media has allowed everyone to have a big soapbox. The town lunatic used to shout his misinformation from a street corner, and everyone ignored him. Now the town lunatic is on social media and everyone shares his misinformation with all their friends.

Whatever happened to discernment? I was always told to “consider the source.” How many of us, when we hear, see or read a piece of information we either like or don’t like, research its source? Does that entity have an agenda? Who is funding them, and what is their bias? The old saying, “follow the money” still applies today.

The saddest part is that small market newspapers are leading the list of casualties in this war on truth, and those that remain are struggling to survive.

Like so many businesses, the Post Independent has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Our revenue is dependent on local businesses, and local businesses are struggling. We recently reduced our number of publications from seven a week to five, and our staff has been reduced.

What will happen if small-market newspapers go away completely? Where will people get the news about their local governments, schools and businesses — the issues that affect them the most?

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I still believe that most people know what they have with their local newspaper, they just don’t think they’ll ever lose it.

Jeff Bear is a reporter and copy editor for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You may reach him at jbear@postindependent.com


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