The Joys of Reading a “Real” Newspaper

13 September 2009, 1842 EDT

I didn’t get my local newspaper in Blacksburg, and usually use national sources (the New York Times and Wall Street Journal online, mostly) to get my news. Its been awhile, actually, since I’ve gotten a “local” newspaper (actually, I think, since the Pensacola News Journal where I grew up) and even longer since I’ve had to rely on it for news …

I don’t have the APSA excuse for not blogging (for the first time in my career, I didn’t go). Instead, my excuse is that I didn’t really have an idea how hectic moving across the country (a week before classes started), closing on my (just-built) house (the Friday before classes started), getting my stuff (the day classes started), and getting used to a new University’s red tape would be. I’ll post something more substantive soon, but for now (drenched in paint), here’s my thought …

Internet and television challenged, I signed up for the Gainesville Sun, my new local newspaper. It has kept me (poorly) up-to-date on some major international events, but has mostly been a source of amusement and local color … In Gainesville this week, about 40% of the total news is Florida Gator football, followed in close second place by local high schools sending home kids under 10 wearing “I hate Islam” shirts

Anyway, what caught my attention is a running debate in the paper about an ad placed by an organization called the “US Citizens Association.”

The ad basically blames Barack Obama and other democrats for the economic decline in the United States, with pictures of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, Franklin Raines, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and, of course, Barack Obama. It claims that “it was socialism, not capitalism, that caused the bad economy,” and that “they now want to bankrupt the nation with socialized medicine and socialism energy taxes.” Ignoring the grammar for a second, this sort of ridiculousness (and total misunderstanding of the meaning of socialism) is not new to me, having grown up in the “Redneck Riviera” in Northwest Florida where, among other things, some suspect that God causes hurricanes to punish sexual deviance, and others are willing to take up arms against their government to keep their guns.

What interested me about this ad, then, was not its content, but the ensuing debate in the Gainesville Sun about whether they should have printed it, much less in full-page form. In the immediate aftermath of printing of the ad, several liberally-minded people wrote letters to the editor expressing disapproval for it having been printed. In answer to those letters, others wrote in about how the ad did not say anything that was not true, and was a good idea for the Sun to print. Though I cannot find it online, the Sun ran a brief response to this discussion, basically saying that it was not in the position to turn down advertising money.

I noticed after that that there are no less than three full-page ads in my newspaper every day advertising for ad placement, and discussing the value of the existence of local newspapers. While it is no secret that the newspaper industry is in financial trouble, I’ve heard little discussion about how the struggle and possible collapse of local newspapers would affect our daily lives.

Not to go all Bowling Alone on you or anything, but what if local newspapers actually matter to our daily lives? Sure, I don’t really learn anything about International Relations or even American Politics from the Gainesville Sun, but where else would I learn that Hogs Run Wild in a nearby neighborhood? Or, more seriously, the perfect place to tailgate? About local-level political culture?

So, maybe I don’t know what the exact value of local newspapers is. But it seems to me, in a Silicon Snake Oil sort of sense, that there’s something, and we won’t really miss it until its gone.