What is the value of a local newspaper?

Published 12:31 am Sunday, December 16, 2018

By Bobby Tingle


Local newspapers have been a part of my life the entire time of my existence.

As a teenager, I was responsible for managing the maintenance of the automobile provided by my parents for transportation.  I depended on newspaper ads to find out when motor oil was on sale at Sears to manage my maintenance expenses.  Sears had a good price for a can of motor oil.  Their store was in a convenient location. Their ads appeared routinely in the newspaper thrown in our driveway day by day.  As my oil supply ran low and my need rose, all I had to do was read their insert over a two or three-week period and eventually I would find their ad promoting the oil I needed, at the price I was willing to pay.

It was a beautiful relationship.

I had no idea at the time a newspaper career was in my future.  Much has changed in four decades.

When I shopped for motor oil in Sears inserts, two daily newspapers published in Beaumont, and one each in Orange and Port Arthur.

Three of the four ‘Golden Triangle’ newspapers are published today.

Publishing schedules have been altered, staffs are smaller and content is primarily local.  A host of twenty-four hour per day television and online news networks provide national and international news. State news, to an extent, is a bit harder to find.  Local news, on the other hand, is abundant, particularly from local news sources.

(Let’s just skip the reality of the ‘fake news’ social network.)

Printing a local newspaper is much easier today than ever before.  Technology has forever altered the way we acquire, assimilate, transmit and receive news.

In our digital world, most folks have access to word processors, email, digital photography and the world wide web forming an interconnected nexus of wired and wireless data streams to share words and images in seconds.

Once we get the words and images technology makes it possible to ‘build’ a newspaper page with a keyboard, mouse, software, and hardware.  The ‘page’ can then be burned into a metal plate to mount on a press cylinder.  As the cylinder spins through water and ink it applies a ‘copy’ of the page onto newsprint at breakneck speed.

So, what is the value of a local newspaper?

Local newspapers provide a public forum for public discussion.

Local newspapers provide political candidates, elected officials, government agencies, schools, municipalities, and the general public a forum to engage in meaningful information sharing and discussion.

Local newspapers inspire voter turnout, hold public officials accountable, inform citizens of breaking news, applaud good Samaritans, provide event calendars and promote the general welfare.  We even publish children’s letters to Santa!

A local newspaper is subject to the forces of capitalism.  Consumers determine winners and losers in the marketplace simply by where they choose to spend their dollars.

But should it be that way for a local newspaper?

Yes, it should.

In his podcast, “Starving the Watchdog”, Shankar Vedantam poses a question.

Is a local newspaper like the local police department?

Vedantam opines no community would treat funding the local police department in the same way a consumer decides whether to buy a watch or not.

Taxpaying consumers can choose to save money by not employing a local police force.  In the short run, money is saved.  In the long run, the decision would be very costly.

Vedantam cites studies, which found interest rates charged to municipalities increases when there is no strong local newspaper ‘watchdog’.

Bankers, the study contends, view loans to municipalities riskier when there is no watchful eye on potentially corrupt elected officials.

Higher interests rates mean more interest expense consumers/taxpayers must fork over.  In other words, local newspapers contribute to a reduced tax burden.

Vedantam does not argue for public funding of newspapers.  He does point to the public value of a local newspaper.

You can listen to the podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hidden-brain.

Local newspapers like The Orange Leader exist only because local consumers want them.  The staff of The Orange Leader intentionally maintains a local focus.

You determine our value, our ability to exist, by your choice to engage or not.

We intend to provide valuable content beneficial to you and the entire Orange community.  We are confident we will do so.  We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.


Bobby Tingle is the publisher of The Orange Leader.  You can reach him at bobby.tingle@orangeleader.com.