Today begins National Newspaper Week, seven days set aside each year to recognize the importance newspapers have in communities across the United States.
“The best thing about local news is that it provides people with the information they need to shape their communities; that’s why it’s so important to our democracy,’’ the Knight Foundation explains on its website. “To make local impact you have to read local news.”
And local news can have a significant impact on public discourse and ensuring that the people’s right to know is respected by community leaders, demanding that business is conducted with openness and transparency.
A case in point is taking place in Upper Pottsgrove Township, Montgomery County, where officials are planning a municipal complex on a former farm sold to the township as dedicated open space.
The township commissioners claim that since they have paid off the bonds for the land, they own it outright and can do what they want without open space restrictions. Residents disagree and came out in force at meetings to say so.
The issue was brought to light by Mercury staff writer Evan Brandt, who discovered that building design plans for a new township complex were ongoing without there having been an open and public airing of the site on which to build. After Brandt reported on the officials’ plans, citizens protested the proposal to build on township open space and the lack of transparency.
This example shows the value of the rules that reinforce open government and the need for local journalists who ensure they are followed and let the public know when they are not.
Newspapers aren’t just government watchdogs, they are trusted neighbors.
The newspapers of this region raised $91,458 in the most recent Operation Holiday, a seasonal giving program that provides gifts and meals for children in local families of need. The program includes the areas served by the Reading Eagle, The Mercury of Pottstown, The Reporter of Lansdale, The Times Herald of Norristown and the Daily Local News of Chester County and raises funds solely through reader contributions. Last year food and gift cards were provided to hundreds of families with children in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties. Cash contributions were also made to 12 food pantries in the region in January to assist with food purchases during the winter months.
Newspapers are important to the community in other ways, too, particularly the local economy. They hire Pennsylvanians. They pay taxes. They support important organizations within the communities they serve.
In an August 2022 survey, 85% of Pennsylvania registered voters said they have the most trust in local newspapers, print and online; that level of trust surpasses other news media outlets. Additionally, the survey conducted for Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association by Public Opinion Strategies found that 87% believed local newspapers are key to an informed community because they cover local issues such as business, politics and public safety and 87% also said local newspapers help keep people connected to their communities.
Nearly 7 in 10 Pennsylvania adults read a print or digital newspaper or visited a newspaper website in the past week, according to the 2023 Release 1 Nielsen Scarborough Report. Pennsylvanians expect to find local news coverage that will help them to make informed decisions and improve the quality of their lives.
Newspapers run public notices in print, as required by state law, and they voluntarily publish them on their websites and a statewide site, www.publicnoticepa.com, which is managed by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association at no additional cost to taxpayers. These notices ensure that people can participate in the government decision-making process.
Local newspapers are the champions and watchdogs for their communities, a pursuit that is the heart and soul of journalism. We celebrate this week the readers and advertisers who make that pursuit possible, fueling our commitment to keeping the mission alive, now and for many years to come.