December 4, 2008

Press represents the 'core of democracy,' officials say

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
Citizens would be left in the dark and government would be without public oversight if the city loses its newspaper and the watchdog role it plays, said officials in education, city government and development.
If The Bristol Press is closed – as its owner, the Journal Register Co. plans to do if a sale isn't brokered by January 12 – then city commissions, boards, and councils won't be watched by reporters, who regularly attend meetings and write about issues.
"Committees like ours will not get the public airing," said Tom Cosgrove, a board member of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which is overseeing the re-use of the city-owned former mall property.
Cosgrove said other papers that sometimes have a reporter in town don't make the commitment to covering as much of city government as the Press has for many years.
Bristol schools Superintendent Phil Streifer said the daily newspaper is "absolutely critical" for a city.
"How do you run a democracy without a free, competitive local press?" asked Streifer. "It shouldn't be a monopoly."
Streifer said a newspaper is one of the only ways to get information to the public.
"It's the core of a democracy," said Streifer.
America's founding fathers specifically wrote protections for the press into the Constitution, Bristol City Planner Alan Weiner said, adding that he doesn't know of another business that's protected in that way.
"There's a reason for it, and that reason is as valid today as it was back then," said Weiner.
The press functions as the eyes and ears of the public, said Weiner.
"Newspapers were viewed as a very important component of democracy," said Weiner. "At their very best, they represent the voice of the people."
Without newspapers, concerned citizens will have to seek out information about their communities from websites maintained by City Hall, the school district, and organizations in town.
"Then it becomes propaganda," said Weiner. "The beauty part about a newspaper is you don't have to seek it out. It comes to you."
Newspapers are the reason that people maintain an interest in local government, Weiner said.
Whatever happens in Washington, D.C. or even at the state capital, said Weiner, is becoming increasingly remote, but what happens at City Hall is much closer.
"It keeps government and those who work for government on its toes," said Weiner. "People have the greatest impact on their community at the local level. A local newspaper is really the equivalent of that."
Ideally, the local paper is community based, said Weiner.
"A newspaper represents the voice of the community," said Weiner. "When that voice is silenced, it's just one less voice being heard in the democratic process."
If the Press closes, said Weiner, people in town will wake up one day and – even if they didn't especially like the paper – they'll miss it.
"Where are people going to get their news?" asked Weiner. "I don't know that I have an answer to that. If the newspaper disappears, what's going to fill the void? In the long run, the public at large is going to be the losers."
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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