Local daily newspapers: There are no substitutes


These are difficult times for our economy - especially in this region. Sadly, these are even more difficult times for newspapers

The other day I got an e-mail from a man who said he had moved to Toledo last summer and had been reading The Blade for four months but was now planning to drop his subscription.

He had been living in Grand Rapids, Mich., before and thought that paper was too conservative. However, he now felt The Blade was too biased on the opposite side. "When I pick up a newspaper, I want thought and investigation, not heads in the sand. I want hard news and I want editorial commentary with underlying facts." So, he said, he was going to give up on The Blade.

I asked him what he was planning to do for news. "It will be a combination of Internet-based local, regional, and national sources [The Blade Web site included]. I'm just not willing to pay the subscription fees any longer for the hard copy," he said.

Sadly, he is both wrong - and far from alone. Before I address his comments about The Blade, I'd like to say something about newspapers in general - and I have worked for a lot of them, from weeklies in Michigan's beet-farming country to the New York Times to the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn.

For one thing, there is still no substitute for a daily newspaper as far as getting in-depth local information is concerned.

Unfortunately, while you don't get the full range of what The Blade has to offer on the Web, you get a lot of it. And many people today evidently think it is ethically all right to get that information for free without supporting the newspaper that made it possible, either by subscribing or with advertising.

That attitude is part of the reason newspapers are having problems. Most newspapers - including The Blade - have had to eliminate positions and lay off workers. The Tribune Co., which publishes a number of legendary newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun, announced this week that it was filing for bankruptcy protection.

There are indications the Detroit newspapers may be about to abandon home delivery several days a week. Even the New York Times has said it may borrow up to $225 million, using its Manhattan headquarters building as collateral.

Nationwide, thousands of journalists have lost their jobs this year alone - and that is a tragedy of sorts, not just for them and for the newspaper business but for democracy.

One of Thomas Jefferson's most famous sayings was: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Lots of people quote those lines, but few know that he immediately added: "But I mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

These days, far too few people are reading newspapers, evidently convinced that they can be well informed by watching TV and surfing the Internet and occasionally glancing at a paper online.

But you can't be well-informed, especially about local issues. TV can show you wonderful pictures and keep you entertained.

Television can keep you up to date on major stories. But you need a newspaper to figure out what is going on locally, to figure out what a proposed levy will cost you, and whether it is worth it.

You need to read a newspaper on a daily basis if you are to develop any familiarity with the people and institutions in your area.

My disgruntled reader clearly hasn't been reading The Blade for very long. He said he valued "thought and investigation."

Well, this newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2004 and was a finalist in two other recent years, once for exposing the facts behind beryllium poisoning and again for the series of investigations into the "Coingate" scandals.

Does The Blade do everything perfectly? Of course not. Like most newspapers, it now has to perform the "daily miracle" with far fewer people than a few years ago. But newspapers are the reason Richard Nixon had to resign his presidency and Tom Noe is in prison.

The Blade has been doing its part to inform citizens and shine light into dark corners since Petroleum V. Nasby's newspaper exposed the evils of alcoholism in the years after the Civil War.

Other newspapers do the best job they can in their communities. You may think you can be a well-informed citizen without subscribing to your local newspaper. You may think you can get everything you need to know from local TV and an assortment of blogs. But you would be sadly, and tragically, wrong.

Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or e-mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.