The power of the press. That used to mean something. Newspapers were not only politically powerful, they were a financial force. Now, many see them as irrelevant relics. In the lightning-fast world of online news, who bothers reading what is literally yesterday’s news?
Publishers are desperate to keep their newspapers alive. They’ve lost revenue from circulation and print ads. Newspapers are shutting down. There are cutbacks in newsrooms and more duties for the reporters who are left.
It’s a sad, familiar story.
But newspapers recently received a boost. John Oliver recently used his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, to mount a 19-minute defense of newspapers. He said the fact that newspapers are in big trouble affects all of us.
It certainly affects him because his show thrives on re-packaging information from newspapers. He described the media as a food chain. Without the bottom-feeding newspapers, it would fall apart. All TV news shows depend on newspapers. He also speculated that politicians of the future will love not having their shenanigans covered by reporters.
The problem isn’t newspapers themselves. Reporters are still producing great work. The problem is the public. They want their news for free. If content-stealing citizens continue their ways, newspapers will not survive, at least in their revenue-producing printed form.
Oliver isn’t the only one showing his appreciation for newspapers and sounding the alarm. There’s Alan Austic, a small-town newspaper publisher in Lawrence, Nebraska. He started the paper back when Lawrence was a booming railroad town, with seven trains stopping daily. That is why he named it the “Lawrence Locomotive.” Alan is still cranking out a weekly column and covering high school sports.
Alan requested the Review’s help, sometime back, in finding 10 members of a B-17 crew that was shot down over Germany in 1944. His father-in-law, Robert A. Johnson, was the co-pilot. Johnson never discussed the war. His military life was a complete mystery to his family. Alan tried the Army but Johnson’s records had perished in a fire.
So he reached out to me. I found all 10. Nine were deceased but my search led to Tom Leitch, the son of the pilot, who had a treasure trove of his dad’s wartime memorabilia. If this weren’t exciting enough, I also found the bombardier, Walter “Woodie” Woodmansee, alive and well in Rochester, New York. Alan and Tom couldn’t contain themselves. They drove, with their wives, many miles just to visit “Woodie.”
The visit went really well. Alan learned so much more about the trials his father-in-law endured to survive the war. “Woodie” and his wife, Helen, were thrilled that Alan and the others cared enough to drive days to spend a few hours with him.
I asked Alan why he had contacted me in the first place.
“All these people say newspapers are dead,” he said, “but some small community newspapers are still going strong. There’s a brotherhood of newspapers. When I found out there was a community newspaper in Forest Park, I thought I might get some help.” He contacted my editor, who assigned the story to me.
After all, Alan helps people who visit the “Lawrence Locomotive” to inquire about their family history. “I’d dig out information from old newspapers that was invaluable.” What I found out for Alan was also invaluable. He’s going to write a family history to give to his children and grandchildren.
If we want to continue helping people like Alan and preserving the story of Forest Park, we need to keep our community newspaper going. But we’re going to have to subscribe, or spend a buck, or even make donations, ala public radio and TV.
Who knew that a Review story could bring three families together in Rochester?
The power of the press!
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.