Wednesday, October 11, 2017
There used to be 324 newspapers in the state of Pennsylvania. Today, there are about 60, give or take a few.
The Pennsylvania Gazette is the first one on record not just in the colony of Pennsylvania but in all of the Crown's colonies. Benjamin Franklin bought the paper with a partner in 1729, and he contributed to it as well, mostly under aliases.
Among the many firsts the plucky paper would print was the first political cartoon in America, "Join, or Die," authored by Franklin. It also printed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" and the Federalist Papers.
It was bold. It was brash. It was opinionated. And it served its readers well.
Here in West Newton, only ghosts remain of its once "esteemed" Times-Sun; its first office along the railroad tracks carries only a faint trace of its existence on the side of the building.
There rarely is a proper obituary for old newspapers, nothing to chronicle their coverage of town events: how the school board was caught in a corruption sting; how a local politician was caught taking cash in a bag; and how the town rallied when flood waters crested the banks of the Youghiogheny or when the train derailed.
It just dies.
Along with that death comes the death of the local reporter, the person who knows his or her community inside and out.
Good journalism is not glamorous. It's not sexy. It means long hours. It often means no personal life. It means driving on rural roads where there are more deer than people or down alleys where the state of the bodies you see outlined with chalk behind yellow tape will haunt you forever.
As with everything in this country, automation and technology have erased many jobs for reporters. The digital age opened up a world where everyone could have a blog, and none of them had three layers of editors fact-checking them.
That does not mean they don't still do this in New York or Washington. It's just that these days they do it less in the rest of the country.
Two weeks ago, Bob Schieffer cited a statistic that showed journalism is thriving only in the geographical seats of power on our coasts, noting that 1 in 5 reporters live in New York, Washington or Los Angeles.
That geographical realignment means that America's reputable news outlets are run by people who have never likely covered or understood the lives of many of their consumers.
When those news reporters report on church attendance or gun ownership, neither side holds the same values.
There is no good answer here; heck, there isn't any answer. But there is a peek into what has deepened our divide.
And there is also a reminder that all societies need local journalists. They are the ones who keep power in check.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.
Editorial on 10/11/2017
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