During the week I spent in New York City covering the Democrats' national nominating convention in 1976, I loved waking to the sound of the morning newspaper hitting my hotel-room door.
It was the first time I'd been able to read the New York Times the same day it was published. I started reading mailed copies back in college in the middle 1960s. The news was a bit old by the time I got my hands on the paper, true. It was news, still, and the Times' staff filled the newspaper with it.
The Times I received at my hotel door in 1976 was as bulky and weighty as a bale of hay. I couldn't read every story in it, but I tried. And when I'd go down to the hotel breakfast room, I'd see the Times being read at nearly every table. People read newspapers. People respected newspapers.
My parents taught me to respect newspapers when I was a kid on the farm. The Mitchell Daily Republic was the only daily newspaper we could get. It came a day late in the mail. We read it front to back, set it aside and picked it up later to read again. I didn't know many people, adults or young folks, who didn't read newspapers. A perk of getting homework finished in high school study hall was being allowed to go up on stage and read the newspapers in the racks along the back wall. Kids in my classes fought for the privilege. We were just school kids, but I like to think we understood the importance of newspapers and, in at least some vague way, the importance of the free press.
I'm reflecting on those days because we are in the middle of National Newspaper Week. This year's theme is "Newspapers Matter: Now More Than Ever." That isn't just a catchy slogan. It's the truth. In a world of alternative facts, false information sites and elected and appointed officials who simply ignore facts and spin their own narratives, newspapers matter.
Newspapers are where citizens have the best chance of finding the facts, of finding the information they can use to make informed decisions about their own lives and about the future of the nation. Newspapers aren't always right, it's true. But newspapers strive to be accurate and complete. When they aren't, they admit their errors and work mightily to dig out and print the correct information.
I found a telling comment recently. It's from Matt Geiger, executive editor of the News Publishing Co. in Black Earth, Wisconsin. He wrote, "Journalism matters, now more than ever, because people matter. Community journalism matters, now more than ever, because roughly half the world's population lives in small communities, and in the pages of their newspapers, they see themselves and the ones they love.''
Geiger also said that when people ask why community newspapers matter, his reply is, "Everything in this newspaper is important to someone." The New York Times matters, but so does the newspaper in your hometown and my hometown. Yours and mine might even matter more, to us, anyway. They have the reporters, editors and photographers who focus on the events and happenings that affect the lives of the people in their own communities. The local newspapers have the people who try to figure out what's going on, right there in their city, county or state.
As a reporter for 40 years, I covered events that were exciting, dangerous and of national interest. The Rapid City flood of 1972 was one. The Wounded Knee standoff in 1973 was another.
I also spent a ton of time on things that mattered only to a few folks. I read city and county audit reports that I cared nothing about because someone did. I spent long hours in committee meetings on topics that would never affect me personally because they would affect someone, and that meant they should be in the newspaper. Not everyone wanted to know everything I wrote, but like Matt Geiger, I was always convinced that someone out there wanted to know.
I remain convinced of that, and I celebrate National Newspaper Week, now more than ever.