There is new research indicating that civic engagement suffers when a town’s newspaper shrivels. That sounds obvious to me, but it’s interesting to see the ties between a vibrant local newspaper and voting, attendance at city council meetings and other indicators of engagement.
I’m certainly not surprised.
If we’re not here to frame the issues when a mine closes and the owners fire hundreds of people, who will? If we don’t write about the local ramifications of the Farm Bill, fewer people will write their congressman to lobby for their benefits. If we don’t take a stand when the city foists responsibility for its sidewalks onto landowners, well, who will?
On the long list of important reasons for your local newspaper or news website, one of the most easily forgotten is its stewardship of civic engagement. We solicit engagement by providing space for letters and encouraging online comment. We foster a more informed and engaged citizenry by listing times and dates for important meetings in the community. We drum up excitement for the champion Little League team and tell parents how and when they can donate to their schools.
We often refer to ourselves as the Fourth Estate and suggest that we are one pillar of any functioning democracy. It’s true. And encouraging civic engagement is part of that important job. …
Civic engagement is also messy. Editors and elected officials sometimes mutter to themselves that they could use a little less public participation. People are sometimes mean-spirited and not too bright. But we’re all in this together and your newspaper is sort of like an ark, ferrying neighbors to dry land. Be proud of that. It’s noble work.