Opinion

Newspapers provide the checks and balances everyone needs

TORRENS TALK

After Tuesday, March 17, 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as we have known it, is no more.

There are many for whom this doesn’t mean much. If they do read the paper, they are content to do it online. One less printed paper is not a big loss.

For the rest of us, that is not so. We find the computer a poor substitute for getting the printed version. There is something about the tactile sensation of the paper that can find no comparison with a computer.

Of course, there are some other more prosaic preferences such as being able to scan a whole page at one time. There is no way to do that with a computer. The computer can only show part of an article, let alone a page. One must continually scroll to see the whole thing.

It is annoying to those of us used to scanning and choosing what to read and in what order. The constant scrolling up and down, back and forward seems to be a lot of wasted effort when a quick look over a page will do.

But, those issues aside, the bigger concern is who will be the ones keeping on eye on things? For all the complaining about media bias (funny how it’s biased when it is not in agreement with one’s own cherished views), the press really do their job appropriately.

Reporters find more than one independent source before disclosing what they have discovered. They get and present information on all sides of a topic. They investigate their stories. They keep an eye on politicians, politics, police, sports figures, legislation, local issues, state issues, federal issues, court cases, average citizens, trends, fads, health and more. In short, the press cover and report on all aspects of our daily lives.

No less than one of our founding fathers made the case for the press. Thomas Jefferson said, “…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.”

His belief in the important role that the fourth estate provides is one that is in jeopardy as papers across the country continue to close down.

The Seattle P-I will no longer exist as a printed paper. It is the end of 146 years of written history. The paper lost about $14 million this last year. This is far less than the $165 million in bonuses AIG insists must be paid.

It is interesting to note in all the rush to bail out the car companies and the financial industry, no thought seems to be given to this most vital aspect of our lives. Do we really believe we can do without the check and balance provided by the press?

The Seattle Times has been lobbying Olympia to give it some tax breaks to help their bottom line. Given the miserable condition of the budget, it seems a stretch the state will come through. The P-I is going to try to make it online. It’s the first major paper to try this, but it will have only about 20 reporters.

The computer has supposedly led to the “democratization” of reporting. Anyone now can go online and write what they please. That wouldn’t be so bad, but too many people do not utilize critical thinking to realize a lot of what is out there is suspect, at best.

Newspapers provide valuable grist for the thinking mill. The idea a venerable part of that industry will no longer be there is sad, to put it mildly. Seattle is now a one-paper town — not a situation to be envied.

Val Torrens covers local issues for the CK Reporter and North Kitsap Herald.

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