Atticus lost one of his jobs

Our neighbors on the east side of our house have two sons. The oldest, Atticus, is a middle school student. When we are traveling, my wife asks Atticus to collect delivered packages and the daily newspaper.

Back in October, my wife let Atticus know that he had lost one of his responsibilities. After a brief discussion, my wife and I decided to stop the daily home delivery of the print edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

That was a difficult decision. For years, we loved holding the morning newspaper and skimming headlines.

But, it is no secret in the world of newspapers that a print subscription costs more than a digital edition. We made this decision to switch to digital despite the Times-Dispatch offering us a modest discount for continuing our print subscription during the last two years.

A daily newspaper has been a part of my life for many years.

Growing up in North Carolina, the Burlington Times News arrived every afternoon. On Sunday mornings, the Greensboro News and Record landed at the end of our gravel driveway. Sometimes, the carrier’s aim was off. The paper landed in a rain swollen ditch or puddle.

I loved sports, with either paper that was my first stop. During those years, I was never a prolific reader of the other pages that filled out the paper. Yet, unknown to me at the time, I was quietly developing my love for newspaper reading.

In college and graduate school, I remember spending library time researching assorted assignments. Some research required tracking down newspaper articles. I’ll never forget the sound of the spinning reel of the microfiche viewer as I skimmed through what seemed like miles of microfilm to find just the right article.

When I entered the teaching profession, I looked for opportunities within the curriculum to introduce students to journalism. Occasionally, editors of literature books wove historical reporting, essays, and opinion pieces from newspapers into textbooks.

During my assignment as principal at Lakeside Elementary, I cherished the point during the school year when the PTA provided funding for Newspapers In Education. Classroom sets of the Times-Dispatch were delivered to the school. Instructionally, our teachers were creative in how they taught students about the newspaper.

Earlier this fall, I listened with great interest to an interview with Art Cullen on the NPR show Fresh Air. Mr. Cullen is part of the ownership of the local newspaper in Storm Lake, Iowa. This newspaper is a family run business. Mr. Cullen, his wife, son, sister-in-law, and brother are the team that works to keep the paper alive.

Keeping a newspaper breathing is no easy task. Background for Mr. Cullen’s interview, cited one study that revealed 1,800 local newspapers have closed their doors or merged since 2004.

Despite the challenges in publishing The Storm Lake Times, in 2017, Mr. Cullen won a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. Those pieces had a significant impact in bringing about change in the Storm Lake community.

However, when local newspapers close, “so-called news deserts” emerge. This gap in local news coverage can in turn limit opportunities for less informed communities to embrace change.

Being a natural born worrier, I have added to my worry list the loss of newspapers. These closures, this loss of reporting news at the local level isn’t good.

Rightly or wrongly, I have friends who passionately dislike the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Their disfavor might be attributed to a single flaw or multiple agitations.

But, in truth, their dislike, disfavor, and agitation is at the heart of why we need responsible journalists, editors, and publishers.

Our communities need to be informed.

We need to know when work within local governments goes right and when it goes wrong.

We need to know the struggles of citizens to find employment, housing, and food.

We need to know when public leaders succeed and when they fail.

We need stories that make us laugh, cry, and most importantly— think.

And now more than ever, we do not need inaccurate misinformation. We need newspapers to fully vet diligent research and responsibly report the truth—no exceptions.

My wife has adjusted to the digital version of the Times-Dispatch better than me.

I’m attempting to be patient as I learn the digital format.

Next door, I suspect Atticus is quietly hoping that I will lose patience, implode, and resubscribe to the print edition.

Who knows, maybe out in Iowa, Art Cullen is rooting for the same reversal from me.

Recent front page Photo by Bill Pike

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