Thursday, October 6, 2005

Editorial - National Newspaper Week
• Newspapers provide forum for community discussions

By Chuck Baldwin

Bond issues and rezonings. Sewer projects and street repairs. Housing projects and redevelopment. Elections and recalls.

And discussion of it all - back and forth, give and take, pro and con.

Sure, there's the local coffee shop, after-church lunches, public forums. But really, there’s only one central place to get all this.

It’s your local newspaper.

And that’s the theme for this year's National Newspaper Week - “Your Newspaper: Your Community’s Town Hall.”

Sometimes, that’s easy to forget. We get wrapped up in all the other benefits of a newspaper, the ebb and flow of a community. Weddings and births. Graduations and deaths. Local sports. Recipes. Church services. Community events and celebrations. The latest sale at the local store.

Sometimes we tend to overlook one of the most important roles of our local newspapers - that of a weekly or daily town hall meeting, where the latest news of government and schools, as well as other issues in the community, is laid out for all to see.

In the news columns and on the editorial pages, newspapers play an integral role in both supporting and shaping our communities.

News stories explain the issues, from all points of view.

Editorials offer the newspaper’s take on those issues and suggest a course of action.

Letters to the editor give community members a chance to sound off with their own ideas.

And even if the newspaper has missed something of importance, very little gets past the community members who speak up in those letters.

Through newspapers, we have community discussions. We engage one another and debate the issues before us.

Providing that “town hall” is a responsibility the folks at newspapers take seriously. We have to. There is no other avenue that provides such varied opportunities on a regular basis for everyone in the community.

Public forums and community meetings are good only for those who attend and speak up. Radio and television are limited by air time.

Newsletters from cities and counties and school districts typically provide only one point of view, only one side of an issue.

Only a newspaper has the capability and reach - and mission - to provide a forum for everyone in the community. To frame the issues and the debate. To offer praise, when deserved, and criticism when needed. And to invite the community into the debate.

This newspaper - your newspaper - is the community’s town hall. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Chuck Baldwin, 52, is editorial page editor of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader and president of South Dakotans for Open Government, a not-for-profit group that promotes freedom of information issues. He has been in the newspaper business for 30-plus years.)

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