The death of democracy, as we know it

So maybe this is a bit extreme. Democracy has been around in these parts for hundreds of years, so why would the death of a newspaper change that way of life? Think it through, folks. Because it can.

Say what you want about newspapers, but they provide an invaluable public service — they keep watch over public officials and government in a way that no one can. Newspapers uncover scandal, explain important societal issues and detail societal abuses. They also write about the kids next door dying of cancer, the puppy saved by a local animal shelter, and the well meaning people who feed the hungry.

And, society is rapidly losing the people who do all of those things.

Here’s what’s happening:

Every time a newspaper downsizes its staff, it takes away a community resource. When those resources start to leave, who takes their place? Who monitors our government? Who tells the community what’s going on?

Some say internet writers will sprout up and create niche sites that take the place of what we’re losing with newspapers. These niche sites will tackle narrowly focused subjects that will keep the public informed.

I don’t think so. Sure, there are all sorts of people blogging and offering opinions.

But there’s a monumental difference between pontificating and doing the serious and objective reporting, analysis, writing and the editing that follows. Look at Rush Limbaugh. You can argue all day whether he’s a genius or blowhard, but you can’t argue that he’s a serious journalist. He’s not. He has a point of view and offers his thoughts on those points. You will not see him, or his ilk, digging through thousands of pages of documents to pull out one piece of information that determines whether someone has done wrong.

Without newspapers, we run the risk of government gone wild. Without the checks and balances that serious reporting provides, government will have no incentive to be open and transparent. It’ll be much easier to claim records and meetings aren’t public, votes don’t have to be explained, new laws and legislation doesn’t have to be challenged.

Folks, that’s not a stretch. Wait until the first big city loses its newspaper. And wait until a Blagojevich-like scandal rocks that city. And wait for the reaction when it takes weeks or months to come to light — if it comes to light at all.

Losing a newspaper is not, simply, the loss of some reading and a few reporters. It’s the lose of the one real mechanism we have for keeping our government in check and keeping our democracy as we know it.

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