These are challenging times for newspapers, and for those of us here at The Star Democrat, who responsibly strive to bring you important news and insights five days a week in print, and every day on our website and through social media.

An informed electorate is key to a well-functioning system of self-government. Citizens deserve to know what’s going on at the county government building and elsewhere in the county.

Newspapers speak truth to power, and act as watchdogs guarding the public purse. Our imparting information to you is that important, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

But, this effort is anything but easy. And there are casualties. Last month, another major newspaper sustained a heavy blow. The New York Daily News laid off half of its staff.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, jobs in the news industry overall have plummeted since 2001, from 411,800 to 173,709. Newspapers have suffered brutal declines. According to a 2018 industry survey, news department staffing nationwide is about 25,000, a shocking drop from around 65,000 in the 1990s.

Community newspapers like The Star Democrat are important, because in addition to keeping an eye on government, we report to our neighbors about our neighbors. We chronicle the lives and times of those in our community.

Many people believe they can simply get their news for free on the internet, not realizing that nothing comes free, and that newspapers actually originate a good deal of the information found on the internet. Facebook and Google do not have reporters covering local events, meetings and sports. A nation robbed of more than half of its newspaper journalists is a nation profoundly less informed.

For decades, the industry has suffered declines in circulation and advertising. This year, another dire threat emerged: skyrocketing prices for newsprint, the huge rolls of paper used in printing newspapers.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration initially slapped tariffs of up to 32 percent on Canadian imports of uncoated groundwood paper, used to produce books, magazines and newspapers. A new report last week, though, said the import tax on newsprint could be more like 20 percent. While that represents a savings to those of us who publish the news, those tariffs appear designed to help one domestic paper mill at the possible cost of thousands of newspaper jobs.

All the while, in some corners the press is wrongly being portrayed as the enemy of the people.

But this is not exactly new. In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson fumed in a letter: “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.”

Hmm. Was that the first accusation in print of “fake news?”

Fast-forwarding to earlier this century, President Obama made a point of castigating Fox News, which was critical of his administration. And of course, President Trump has had his clashes with CNN, a network that has been undeniably hostile to him. But presidents — as well as county commissioners and local school boards — should respect the idea that journalists must be free from government control. Journalists should not be punished for reporting what the government does not condone.

At some point, this ongoing cultivation of hostility to differing viewpoints may finally erode the public’s faith in the First Amendment, which is the foundation of all our liberties.

Citizens who wish to protect themselves must preserve a free press. We pledge to continue to do our part by informing, entertaining and enlightening you.

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