by Betsy Edwards
This is National Newspaper Week, and if you are reading these words, chances are you already have an appreciation for the role that newspapers—and local newspapers, in particular—play within our communities.
Since our nation’s founding, newspapers have been critically important—as a source of reliable information upon which the public can make informed decisions, as a means for holding elected officials accountable, and as valued institutions within communities.
As a newspaper reader, you likely know this. Research tells us that most Virginians who read local newspapers are aware of the essential functions of local newspapers. A statewide survey conducted by the Virginia Press Association found that almost two in three (63%) of the survey’s 6,400 respondents regard local newspapers as the most trusted source of news, besting local TV, national newspapers and online outlets.
That’s encouraging news. Now overlay it with research conducted by professors at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois-Chicago, which found that when newspapers go away, government waste and fraud go up, and voter turnout goes down. There’s also evidence that misinformation and polarization fill the void that a closed newspaper leaves behind.
Perhaps ironically, it’s the online version of local newspapers that is now on the rise. Since 2014, the average number of monthly unique visitors to local news websites is up 44% according to the Pew Research Center. The trend is just as robust in Virginia. Monthly page views to the websites of Virginia newspapers are now over 240 million.
National Newspaper Week is an apt occasion for reflecting on the state of local newspapers such as this one. It’s also a timely opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to you, our readers, to fulfill our responsibility in reporting the news truthfully, fairly and in keeping with the values of our community that we all share.
Betsy Edwards is the executive director of the Virginia Press Association.