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Front Royal – a rare, four newspaper town

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It was announced last week by Pew Research that employment at newspapers across the nation had, in the last decade, declined by almost 50 percent. With that and corresponding numbers of newspapers closing down around the nation, I thought how fortunate we are in Warren County to be served by four media outlets, including our own nearly two-year-old Royal Examiner online newspaper.

Washington Post writer Margaret Sullivan said it best in a recent column: “The dire (Pew) numbers play out in ugly ways: public officials aren’t held accountable; town budgets go unscrutinized; experienced journalists are working at Walmart, or not at all, instead of plying their much-needed trade in their communities.”

The Pew study came after the New York Daily News announced a 50-percent reduction in its newsroom staff; and the world’s largest news service, The Associated Press (for which I once worked), amalgamated certain domestic bureaus and effected layoffs across the country. Pew reported that employment in newspaper newsrooms between 2008 and this year declined 45 percent.

Sullivan summed it up with these words: “One problem with losing local news coverage is that we never know what we don’t know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses.”

But not so, at least so far, in Warren County where the Royal Examiner and its three print brethren continue to provide a rich and varied coverage of local affairs.

How fortunate we are!

After plying a journalism and public relations career for 70 years I’ve learned this truism: that newspapers help maintain a degree of honesty and integrity in the governments they cover, be it at the local or national level.

Journalists continue to be not an enemy of the people as has been suggested from on high, but a guardian of the people’s affairs. My colleagues and other local journalists I know today, as the scores of journalists I’ve worked with over the years did before them, continue to tell it as it is.

For the most part, the so-called “fake news” springs only from fake information spewed by politicians satisfying their own spurious ends. There are occasions, both nationally and locally, when media outlets have stumbled or consciously allowed themselves to be used as tools of those in the halls of power. But more often than not, their fellow media and the public at large have caught them in the act and held them up to public scrutiny for their failures or indiscretions.

How fortunate we are in our corner of the world to continue to have a small band of reporters and editors honestly working for the public good from four separate newspapers.

To them, and to their publishers, a tip of my hat, one and all.

(The writer, who retired to Rockland in 2002, is a contributing writer at the Royal Examiner. He spent 25 years working for newspapers in three countries, including a 10-year stint with the world’s largest news service, The Associated Press. He also completed a quarter century as a public affairs officer with various federal government departments in Washington D.C. as well as two years as a U.S. Senate press secretary.)

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. James

    August 14, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Great article and we are fortunate.

    My greatest concern is whether a community our size can support economically 4 news organizations. These groups depend on local advertising dollars to survive which is somewhat limited in a community our size. This opens up an opportunity for political pressure to limit coverage on certain stories that might reflect poorly on political power bases in the community.

    This takes the form of not advertising or influencing other business to stop advertising thus restricting the reporting on certain stories. A recent example of this happened publicly when a group in the community called for a boycott of readership and the threat of boycotting of businesses advertising in the paper. This has also happened regarding tax and other revenue-generating issues that were covered by the press that was revealing to the public of the self-serving nature of our elected officials.
    This truly is a tough time for all media nowadays. I can only image how tough it is here in little Front Royal, I wish them the best of luck.

  2. Leonard Sherp

    August 12, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Thanks, Malcolm, for a wonderfully written piece, and for pointing out how lucky we are to have such great local coverage from our different media here in the region. It is important for everyone first to understand, and then to step up and vigorously defend the institution that is the free press, without which democracy can not survive and which currently is under constant attack from those whose charges of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” aim to hide hypocrisy, misdeeds, corruption, and policies of division and cruelty unworthy of our great nation.

  3. Phillip Gregory Rice

    August 10, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    When you distort what the Pres. has said ” fake news is the enemy of the people” you create fake news. You have made a conscious decision to misrepresent another persons statement and then represent your troubled thoughts as his. I believe that that fact is not attractive or truthful. What happened to who, what, when, where and how. I think another trip to college would be called for but they are mostly socialist right now and would applaud your indiscretion.

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