In some ways, newspapers are a business like any other — though a business under more economic stress than most these days. But newspapers, especially local newspapers, are also unique resources for and in their communities.
This is National Newspaper Week, so it seems a good time to think about what local newspapers like The Press Democrat offer. It comes at an especially heart-wrenching time as we solemnly mark the one-year anniversary of devastating wildfires that ripped through the Northern California.
Disasters often reveal a community’s hidden strengths, and that was certainly the case with last year’s tragic wildfires. In Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, the inferno took 40 lives and thousands of homes. Thousands more lives were devastated.
A year later, we are still recovering. Some homes lost to the blaze have been rebuilt. Many more have not. Those who lost loved ones continue to grieve, and the community continues to strive to restore itself.
The Press Democrat newsroom covered the catastrophe as it occurred. Journalists — some of whom were evacuated from their own homes — put the community’s need to know what was happening above their own worries, much like journalists at the New Orleans Times-Picayune did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s what reporters everywhere do when disasters happen.
This month, our reporters have been covering the anniversary. They’ve been seeking out survivors to tell their stories; examining and reporting on the response from state, federal and local agencies; and explaining the business community’s struggle to come back.
But The Press Democrat is more than an observer of this community. We are part of it. So, in partnership with the Redwood Credit Union and state Sen. Mike McGuire, we formed the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, which has raised more than $32 million to help fire victims who lost homes, jobs or businesses, and gave grants to more than 60 nonprofits to aid fire victims.
Yet local newspapers aren’t just important for communities recovering from devastation. The chronicling of day-to-day life by reporters who live in the communities they cover provides an invaluable role service: helping residents be informed citizens.
Local reporters write the story of the community — from new businesses to school sports to government affairs. In cities and counties across the nation, reporters are watchdogs looking out for the public’s interest, exposing corruption in both the private and public sector and celebrating wonderful moments of success.
Weeks before this year’s all-important midterm elections, newspapers are providing information that voters need to make their choices in the voting booth.
We don’t mean any of this to toot our own horn. But we do want to remind you that newspapers are an essential part of a functioning democracy. The nation’s founders recognized this when they elevated a free press to the special protection in the First Amendment.
The people who make up a newspaper are friends, neighbors, members of the PTA. We are part of this community, too, and our interests and our futures are inseparably intertwined with Sonoma County and the entire North Bay.
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