On the role of the newspaper in 2017

Some very upset people came into the office not too long ago

What they were upset about isn’t important in the context of this article -- what is important is how they approached the subject.

They started by informing me that no one, and they meant absolutely no one, gets their news from the newspaper any more. Everything anyone needs to know about is right there on the web. This is 2016, they said, and the local newspaper is already dead but just doesn’t know it.

They then asked if we (a newspaper) could write or post an article on what they were upset about. They were quite adamant about that because they wanted to get the news out to as many people as possible. The disconnect between their initial anti-newspaper sentiments and their request never seemed to sink in.

I remember letting out a sigh.

But as we enter into 2017 it is important to look at what newspapers actually accomplish.

All of us, over this past year, had ringside seats to the debacle that was the U.S. Election and the role that media had in it. Facts didn’t seem to matter any more. Every day newspapers were pointing out misogynistic, racist, and downright lies that were coming directly from the mouth of the man who would become the President Elect. None of that had any effect. People looking to ditch the establishment voted in a rich, white male who has made a career out of screwing over the little guy and news agencies wondered if anything they did could have made a difference.

What did make a difference was fake news over Facebook newsfeeds. While fake news isn’t new, (National Enquirer anyone?), algorithms that know what you like and dislike, and cater what fake news to send to your Facebook feed, is a relatively new thing. This was proven to be a factor in electing a troll as the leader of the most powerful country on the planet. Other factors are summed up nicely in the movie Idiocracy.

So of course news agencies are doing some serious soul-searching and head-scratching. We live in a world where the Oxford Dictionary has named ‘Post-Truth’ as the word of the year. What does the media do when it seems like the planet doesn’t want to know what is really going on and prefers to live in cloistered echo chambers? Where does that leave us, the scrambling scribes who make a living off of the news?

Well that leaves us exactly where we have always been. Right here, covering what makes our small part of the world tick by reporting and by publishing stories written by the people who live here. After all, where do you think CBC or even the New York Times gets their stories from? Do you think they have millions of reporters scouring the countryside? Of course not. Any story that involves a rural community (like ours) starts with the local newspaper or radio station reporting on it. We exist to tell the ongoing history of our area and to share the voices of our community with each other. Sometimes these stories hit the national or international stage, but mostly we share them amongst ourselves. And unlike your Facebook feed, you may read something in your local newspaper that you don’t agree with or haven’t thought of. By reading those articles, you have expanded your horizons and grown as a person.

And there is reason for optimism for community newspapers in the coming year. It is no secret that for newspapers, the lion’s share of our revenue comes through advertising. Experts predicted the end of the print newspaper way back in 2004. That date was revised to 2010, then 2015. While some of the largest newspapers have closed or cut staff to the bone, community newspapers are still the first choice for local news.

The reason for this is there remains no better way to get a community’s stories or messages from local businesses straight into the hands of the people who live there.

So to all the people who read The Kootenay Advertiser, and to all the businesses that see the value of advertising in our medium, I thank you and wish you all joy and prosperity.

Happy New Year.

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