A couple of years ago, I hosted a leadership development class from northwest Kansas on a tour of the Kansas Press Association, followed by a discussion of the newspaper industry and how it had changed in the past decade.
I posed a series of questions to the group. First, I asked for a show of hands of how many in the room subscribed to at least one print newspaper. More than half the class answered in the affirmative.
Of those remaining, I then asked how many regularly got their news from one or more newspaper websites. All but one held up their hands.
OK, I continued for that one remaining holdout: Do you consume your news at a non-newspaper Internet site? That last guy held out for a moment, then nodded his head in agreement.
My point was simple: while some think they aren’t a “newspaper reader” if they don’t receive a printed copy on their doorstep or in the mail or pick it up at the local convenience store, the source of most “authoritative news” in our country is still — you guessed it — the newspaper.
What is “authoritative” news? It’s news written by journalists, those who are trained to ask questions, write objectively and strive every day to get all sides of a story.
When you read “news” online or on your mobile phone — especially local news — you’re more likely than not reading a story written by a newspaper journalist.
How is that, you ask? Because much of what is available on the Internet uses as its basis information first assembled by a journalist. In other words, the facts of the story that lead to those interesting discussions at the coffee shop and online originated with a journalist, and in most cases one who works for a newspaper.
Oct. 6 through 12 is National Newspaper Week, a time set aside each year to recognize the role of newspapers in our daily lives.
As you know, our industry is in the midst of dramatic change. Those technological advancements listed above have put pressure on our newspaper editors and publishers because they require them to collect the news and deliver it through a variety of avenues: print, online and, more often these day, through a mobile device.
Even with these challenges, newspaper staff members have continued to perform their two primary functions in American society: to keep the public informed and to be a watchdog on government.
James Madison, our nation’s fourth president, said: “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Newspaper reporters from all corners of the state believe their watchdog role and the public’s right to know go hand in hand and that knowledge, especially of what our elected leaders are doing, is essential to our system of self-governance.
I’m not asking you to take a newspaper reporter to dinner or to even pat him or her on the back. However, you might ponder for at least a moment how you would learn about the actions of government without them.
Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association and a former reporter, editor and publisher.