Newspapers under attack from all directions

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By Michael Hicks

It was in the early 1980s — I was a mere child — when I first started thumbing through the daily newspaper. I immediately flipped to the sports pages and then usually the comics or vice-versa.
I walked to the nearby 7-Eleven weekly and brought neighboring papers — the Washington Post or the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, to name a few — just so I could thumb through their coverage and clip out advertisements to save for my own personal collection.
It was the start of my fascination with newspapers, a fascination that has grown since 1990, when I began my journalism career.
But newspapers nowadays are under attack. Not just journalists themselves but the newspaper industry as a whole. And the attacks are coming from all directions, including corporate owners and government officials — both state and federal.
It’s the notion that all that we do is produce fake news. It’s the proposal of higher import tariffs that would cripple the cost of newsprint. It’s the state legislature pondering pulling public notices out of newspapers and placing them solely online. It’s selfish corporate owners who gut their newsrooms to the bare minimum.
And it’s not just newspapers, but journalists, who on the TV side have had to abandon their journalistic integrity to benefit the political belief of their corporate owners by reading one-sided propaganda or else fear the termination of their employment.
Certainly, the internet and social media, in particular, have taken their toll on newsprint and how people consume the news. Cable television, in particular 24-hour news channels, haven’t helped. That, however, doesn’t mean that newspapers are obsolete or don’t serve a purpose. They do.
I ask this question: If you live in Evergreen, Conifer or South Jeffco, where will you get the news about your community? Will it be online? Will it be via TV outlets? How much information would you receive? Would it be enough? Will it give you everything that you deserve?
In the last year, I’ve heard the fake news rants. I’ve had readers call or e-mail and say that our papers were too liberal or too conservative, depending on their point of view, and I’m OK with that if we get called both. Why? Because that means we’re pushing both sides of the story out there. This especially comes up on our Opinion pages.
The columnists who write for Evergreen Newspapers have a variety of viewpoints. We recently shuffled a few columnists around to try and counter each of our papers’ content. We added a female conservative columnist to the Clear Creek Courant, moved a male conservative columnist to the Canyon Courier and Columbine Courier and outlined a week-to-week schedule so that the viewpoints would be, hopefully, balanced.
We’ve seen in recent months a proposal by the U.S. Commerce Department to implement higher import tariffs on newsprint coming from Canada. If there are two things that cost newspapers the most, it’s employees and newsprint.
You’ve probably noticed how newspaper sizes have shrunk throughout the years, not just in the number of pages but also the actual physical size of the pages. That’s in direct correlation to keep costs down when it comes to newsprint. The last thing we need is for the cost of newsprint to increase. An increase would mean finding ways to combat such a hike, which could mean an increase in subscription rates, and who really wants that?
Another source of lost income could come from the state legislature, which has proposed nixing public notices from Colorado newspapers.
State lawmakers have acknowledged that this will cost newspapers income if they don’t publish public notices. By 2022, counties would instead publish financial reports on their websites as long as they publish a link to them in at least one newspaper. No longer would counties be required to publish an expense report monthly or twice-annual salary reports.
In a report from Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, Chris Kennedy, a Democratic state representative from Lakewood, said, “The last thing I want to do is contribute to what we’ve seen as a struggle for the newspaper industry to keep doing what they do, which is provide vital information to folks across the state.” Yet, this is exactly what Senate Bill 18-156 does.
Throw in corporate owners, like Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns the Denver Post, or Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns more than 170 stations throughout the U.S., who’ve imposed their will on their newsrooms, be it cutting the staff dramatically in size or requiring on-air talent to read editorials online as opposed to reporting the news, and one can see why journalism as we know it is suffering.
All journalists — most of us at least — want to do is report the news to our customers in the most complete and factual way possible without worrying about whether the money is there to produce the next week’s paper or having some corporate overlord stand over us and force us to sacrifice our journalistic integrity. Once we do that, we’ve lost the true meaning of what we once loved to do.

Michael Hicks is the editor of Evergreen Newspapers.