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posted: 10/7/2013 5:34 PM

'Communities die when there is no newspaper'

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  • Robert M. Williams Jr.

      Robert M. Williams Jr.

 
By Robert M. Williams Jr.
Guest Columnist

I know of newspapers that kept their communities informed about clean water and shelter during terrible storms and disasters.

I know of newspapers that exposed crooks, lost a lot of advertising from the crooks' buddies and still put out a paper every week.

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I know of a newspaper that had an ironic sense of humor that even offended a few readers and stood its ground with a "come on people, have a brain" retort.

I know of publishers who took pay cuts during the recession rather than cut staff.

I know of publishers who lost everything in a lightning strike but had such a dedicated crew the readers got the paper next week -- on time.

I know of editors who have been screamed at, vilified and afraid for their children's safety because they wrote the tough truth.

I know of reporters who risked life and limb in war zones and came back to tell the community of their troops' bravery.

All of this has happened in the past couple of years.

And people say newspapers are dead? Come on, people. Have a brain.

Newspapers are alive and lively. Our communities shrivel and die when there is no newspaper.

The fact is: The Internet is no enemy of a good community newspaper. The enemy of a good newspaper is indifference. A community that doesn't care about honesty and clean government, effective schools, invigorating community service or the connections that bind us into a functioning society is a community that doesn't need a newspaper. That community won't be around long.

Good communities make good newspapers and vice versa. We have all faced a rough economy. We all are looking at how digital transformation affects every aspect of our lives. But as president of the National Newspaper Association, which represents nearly 2,200 community newspapers, as well as a publisher of thriving weekly newspapers in Georgia, I am now calling for the death of the "newspapers are dead" rumor. We can't afford it.

The fact is that while very large newspapers have faced big challenges to their businesses, America's thousands of community papers are as healthy as their communities. NNA's research in partnership with the University of Missouri RJ Reynolds Institute reports 83 percent of the people in towns with community newspapers say they rely on those newspapers as their principal source of news and information.

We print better-looking pages than ever because of advanced technologies. We can shoot video for our websites with as up-to-the minute precision as TV crews. We put out tweets and posts and pin pictures to new social media sites. The Internet isn't going to kill us. It's giving us new tools to work better, faster and smarter.

People who say otherwise aren't reading their community newspapers. They are missing the real news.

• Robert M. Williams Jr. is president of the National Newspaper Association. His column appears in observance of National Newspaper Week.

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