Linking communities and people together

The community newspaper you hold in your hand plays an important role in your quality of life. Weekly, non-daily and other local publications help strengthen the communities they serve.

Community newspapers boost the local economy - both through advertising and in news coverage. They showcase community businesses at a time we need to be shopping locally, investing in the community and protecting local jobs. They allow "mom and pop" businesses to reach their most likely customers.

Community newspapers bring us "good news" - news of Scout projects, civic club fundraisers, little-league registration, chamber of commerce happenings, church bake sales and students who make the honor roll or dean's list.

They help neighbors get to know each other a little better. They often report on anniversaries and family reunions, reminding people of the things they like so well about their community.

Community newspapers provide a forum for expression. They allow readers to make their voices heard, and they enable ordinary citizens to deliberate on the future of their community.

Community newspapers encourage civil, issue-oriented discourse and they often set the stage for it.

Some community newspapers serve as "watchdogs" to hold elected leaders accountable. They shine a light on local government, sometimes using "Freedom of Information" laws to get public records and make those records available to citizens. They keep voters informed. They let people see how their tax dollars are being spent. During an economic downturn - when tax dollars are scarce and the demands on them increased - that's important.

The people who operate these newspapers work and live in the communities they cover. They're your neighbors. They share your values. They understand your community because they're a part of it.

With the nation plunging into recession and with the never-ending stream of bad economic news, there's much focus on the decline of newspaper circulation in most of the major markets across the country. Newspaper stocks have been taking a beating, and news reports tell us these are dark days for their industry. On Friday, Feb. 28, the national media carried reports of the closing of yet another daily newspaper.

But community newspapers are much more than paper and ink. Community newspapers pull communities together. They help connect people with those around them. In this way, community newspapers provide a valuable form of public service.

Amid uncertainty over the quality of our daily economy and the direction of our nation, their role is more important than ever. Let's hope the outlook for community newspapers is much brighter than what is being reported in the national media. If you want to be encouraged, read your community newspaper.

This is a guest editorial by Richard Eckstrom in observance of National Newspapers in Education Week, which runs from March 2 through March 6. Eckstrom is the S.C. Comptroller General, whose office is charged with approving, supervising and accounting for all spending by the state government.