Keeping the Voice of Rural America Alive
Sep 12 2016
On Capitol Hill, I spend a lot of time explaining that in rural Kansas community development can come down to whether or not there’s a grocery store in town. It’s something few people in Washington think much about, but in so many of our communities across Kansas keeping the local economy alive and well is about having a Main Street with a hardware store, grocer, pharmacy and a weekly newspaper.
Growing up in rural Kansas, newspapers are where I not only learned about the rest of the world, but also who won Friday night at the football game, who was getting married, who received a blue ribbon at the county fair and which new businesses were opening in town. As Kansans, we care about our neighbors and the local paper is a big part of how we connect to them. Strong local newspapers improve the quality of life for local citizens and help strengthen local communities.
But newspapers are so much more. In the 18th century they were a tool in the fight for independence, and the freedom of the press was established in the First Amendment. Newspapers also played a critical role in keeping Kansas Territory settlers informed of the rapid succession of events leading up to our state’s admission to the Union in 1861. And today, newspapers help root out wrongdoing as a community watchdog.
The news about the World Company selling to a West Virginia-based newspaper company and Harris Enterprises selling five Kansas newspapers – The Ottawa Herald (which the Harris family has owned since 1907), The Hutchinson News, Salina Journal, The Garden City Telegram and The Hays Daily News – is disappointing because it will result in fewer of our papers being owned by Kansans. The benefit of your hometown paper being owned and operated by a member of a Kansas community is in their innate understanding of the local point of view. They know what news matters to you and your family, and they know the history of our state and people.
The digital age has changed the way we receive and share information. Seeing local news departments downsize, lay off reporters or shut their doors altogether should remind us all how important it is to support our local papers just like all other local businesses. We may no longer settle in with a print edition and our morning coffee at the kitchen table, or get to know our paperboy, but we can demonstrate our desire to keep community journalism alive by investing in online subscriptions, calling newsrooms with tips about upcoming events, and sharing articles with our neighbors. We can and must help slow the decline of newspaper readership – our communities depend on them just as much as they depend on us.
The reality is that the future of rural America is not a big concern for a majority of decision-makers in Washington, D.C. That’s why a strong work ethic and genuine concern for others – values that bind Kansans together – are as important now as ever. Together we build up the strength and spirit of our communities to keep our home such a great place to live, work and raise a family. Supporting local news is just one piece of that puzzle, but it’s up to us to make certain our local papers are a part of our shared futures.