By Jim Pumarlo
Daylight saving time has returned, prompting many to celebrate with an eye toward warmer temps and the change of seasons. As if on cue, this is a great time as well to celebrate newspapers and the sunshine they deliver to all of our lives and communities.
Reminding citizens and public officials about the public’s right of access to government information is the focus of “Sunshine Week: It’s Your Right to Know,” March 14-20. At its foundation, Sunshine Week underscores preserving the free flow of information for an open, effective and accountable government.
I’ve always been intrigued and impressed by reader conversations.
Who chose the recipes to be included in the special section? What does it take to get a photo of my kid’s youth team published in the sports section? Where is the ad from my favorite store? When did you stop reporting class honor rolls? Why didn’t you use my quote from the meeting? How did you decide to publish my election profile on page 2 while my opponent’s interview was carried on the front page?
The comments – whether a compliment, criticism or simply curiosity – underscore a common theme: Readers view the local newspaper as “their” newspaper.
Community newspapers, at their best, are stewards of their communities. The news columns are a blend of stories that people like to read and stories they should read. The advertising columns promote and grow local commerce. And the editorial pages are a marketplace of ideas.
Sunshine Week coincidentally comes on the heels of the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest – a recognition of the best work among our state’s newspapers from features and public affairs reporting to photos and community service projects, spanning news and advertising content.
Congratulations to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead rated the best nonmetro daily; among its winning entries was first place in “Amplifying Community Voices,” a series that explored “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of the Plains.” Kudos as well to the Pine Knot News of Cloquet, the best overall newspaper among nondailies. Among its winning entries was first place in government/public affairs coverage for scrutiny of consolidation talks between Carlton and Wrenshall school districts.
The sparkling examples of newspaper excellence crisscross our state.
The Timberjay in Tower, Pelican Rapids Press, Duluth News Tribune and Albert Lea Tribune were among newspapers recognized for their editorial pages.
Honorees for sports reporting included the Jackson County Pilot, Detroit Lakes Tribune, Minnetonka/Hopkins/Excelsior Sun Sailor and Bemidji Pioneer.
Those recognized for overall use of photography included the Forest Lake Times, Echo Press of Alexandria and the Minneapolis Northeaster.
The list goes on.
COVID-19 certainly has changed the landscape of our nation’s economy and employment. Many businesses have pivoted and adjusted their models – and remain a force. It’s a credit to their entrepreneurial spirit and acumen.
Count newspapers among the success stories. Newspapers, as our premier clearinghouses of information, have been challenged throughout history – first by radio, then by television, and then by the Internet and the digital age. They have evolved and emerged stronger. Newspapers are persevering through the pandemic as well.
It’s difficult to find a product or service that is welcomed into more households and has greater impact on our everyday lives in work and leisure. Consider that 2,941 of the 3,141 U.S. counties are covered with a local newspaper. What other industry can boast nearly 94 percent penetration in the national marketplace.
What drives the connection with readers?
Newspapers inform: Trained journalists know how to flesh out information not readily volunteered or available to citizens, delivering facts that frame decisions in the public and private sectors that affect people’s everyday lives.
Newspapers entertain: Reports of hometown sports in stories and photos are welcomed even more during these days of spectator restrictions.
Newspapers embody trust: Study after study shows that consumers place the greatest confidence in newspaper ads.
Newspapers stimulate conversation: Editorial pages push readers beyond their comfort zones, laying the foundation for a rich exchange of opinions.
Newspapers dominate their markets: Newspapers connect with readers of all demographics through a variety of platforms from print publications to the web and digital channels.
Sunshine Week is a great reminder that energized newspapers are at the foundation of energized communities.
Jim Pumarlo is a member of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. He is a former editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle and former board member of the Minnesota News Media Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.