A case for newspapers

Feb 06, 2013

For the second time as Governor of Maine, Paul LePage told a group of school children just what he thinks about newspapers — not much. Mr. LePage, at an event in Winslow with a group of 100 students, told a reporter that his "greatest fear" was newspapers.

One the one hand, good, newspapers should make politicians feel a certain amount of unease. If we didn't we wouldn't be doing our jobs as watchdogs for the public. Reporting how the governor's proposal to eliminate revenue sharing with cities and towns would drive up property taxes is probably not something he would happily read.

However, it is also sad that Mr. LePage would write off an entire medium as "bias" or decry an industry that strives to introduce sunlight to the dark halls of the statehouse. Certainly that would be something a conservative would admire.

Mr. LePage went on to say he preferred television and radio to newspapers and, according to a 2011 Pew survey, Americans tend to agree. In fact a whopping 69 percent said they did not think there would be a significant effect on the community if they lost their local paper. However, this community knows first hand the effect of losing their local paper.

All forms of news media have their place. We work at a newspaper and would like to step in and briefly defend what we do. When it comes to television and radio they tend to provide different information, and people use them to find different information than what they look for in newspapers.

In the Pew survey, when asked to rank their top source for certain topics, newspapers scored surprisingly well, ranking as the favored source in 11 of the 16 categories the survey asked about. With television it was just three — primarily weather and breaking news — and with radio only traffic news. With newspapers they ranked first in topics like taxes, politics, crime, social services and development.

When we do cover the same issues and stories, the different types of media also tend to approach topics from a different angle. For example, a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that election coverage television covered the political tactics and "horse race" almost 70 percent of the time, while newspapers wrote less than half their stories on the tactics. Likewise television news only covered the campaign issues 10 percent of the time while newspapers were almost double that.

While there is some truth to the old criticism of newspapers that they provide yesterday's news today — or last week's in our case — that results in longer more in depth pieces on a wider range of issues.

Our final point is on the venue these comments were made. It is one thing for a governor to say he doesn't like print media, but it is another entirely to say so in front of school children. Parents and teachers have a hard enough job trying to promote reading, they don't need an authority figure putting it down.

This is a governor who has consistently been critical of the Maine public school system and the graduates it produces. Having students reading less of anything is not going to improve the situation.

Comments (1)
Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Feb 07, 2013 09:48

Thank goodness for the resurrection of The Republican Journal.  Besides the folksy news it provides weekly, their in-depth coverage of serious issues that impact the greater community has been invaluable.  Yes, I am referring to DCP's LPG tank in particular. Journalists like Tanya Mitchell and Ben Holbrook have endured week after week, month after month of Searsport Planning Board and Selectmen Meetings, and more recently Tank Public Hearings (reconvening Monday, 2/11, 6:00 pm at Searsport HS w/ the Good Harbor Risk Assessment) to listen and record the proceedings. They know the backstory well, and like Christine Parish of The Freepress, they connect the dots.

In contrast the cable television videographers appeared at the proceedings briefly to catch a few sound bites.  In November the young woman behind a camera told me she was there for just 15 minutes before needing to leave.  Fifteen minutes from 5 nights of hearings that then translated into a spot on the news that lasted 1 minute, 22 seconds.

The Republican Journal, The Freepress, and even the BDN with whom I do not always agree, do us all a service in their coverage of local news, and the news beyond.  And we don’t need electricity or an Internet connection to take advantage of them. I will continue to purchase and support all three of these newspapers, even when I might disagree with their “take” on an issue that matters to me.  I’m glad they’re out there. Thanks to them all and the journalists who ferret out the news they provide. Keep up the admirable work!


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