Politics Monday: How My Local Newspaper Builds Civic Responsibility

My days are bookended by two delicious hours of information intake. The early riser in our household, I quietly ingest The Palm Beach Post on my iPad over breakfast on our lanai, and my husband and I soak in the PBS NewsHour after dinner. (We’re not all highbrow: we watch Wheel of Fortune during dinner.)

My breakfast spot

The newspaper and the NewsHour often inform what I write about in this blog. Today, the subject is newspapers themselves.

In her recent PBS NewsHour interview with outgoing Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, anchor Judy Woodruff commented on the loss of local newspapers:

… over the last 15 years, I was reading, 1,800 newspapers, local weeklies and dailies, have shut down.

Judy Woodruff

The St. Petersburg Times — on the opposite coast of Florida — became one of those lost local newspapers when it was merged into the Tampa Bay Times a decade ago. Yesterday, as reporter Claire McNeill wrote, the printing plant that continued to run the paper saw its last issue hit the streets, marking yet another loss.

When the St. Petersburg Times’ plant was built in the late 1950s, the paper ran a 36-page special section. ‘Like the great pyramid of Egypt,’ a reporter wrote, the new plant was a grand symbol, ‘a functioning monument’ for readers alive and unborn.Hiring ads ran near-daily: ‘Get in on the ground floor of the newspaper of tomorrow.’

Claire McNeill The Tampa Bay Times

Our local newspaper tells us what’s happening in our community, our village, our town, our county. If all politics is local, the newspaper empowers us to engage on issues that matter. Let me give you a concrete example: tomorrow’s local elections.

My husband and are not eligible to vote. Our community lies outside the boundaries of local government in the western reaches of unincorporated Palm Beach County. Our elected officials — the commissioners, the sheriff — were part of the November elections. I will admit that I glossed over the Palm Beach Post’s many articles on the issues and the candidates in tomorrow’s municipal elections, but yesterday, the paper got my full attention.

Reporter Chris Persaud wrote about the spill-over impact on local elections of the record number of Floridians who voted in the 2020 elections. Eligible voters who requested a mail-in ballot for the November elections automatically received a ballot for tomorrow’s municipal elections. For some, it was a welcome reminder.

Normally I don’t even vote in presidential elections. I ain’t got no faith in politics, period. But because of the recent craziness in politics, I just decided to take a swing at it.

Tommie Butler, a 64-year-old Black Democrat from West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

For others, it was an annoyance.

I thought we were done voting.

Lisa Steinmetz, West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

Democracy is ongoing, as is our civic duty to participate. We are never done voting. And these are exactly the types of actions that the GOP is seeking to put an end to after what was the highest turnout in the nation’s voting history. So, if there were no newspaper and no surprise ballot in the mailbox, who would turn out for local elections?

Who is going to provide the public the kind of information they need and deserve to know in order to be engaged citizens?

Marty Baron, outgoing executive editor, The Washington Post, speaking on the PBS NewsHour

Leave a Reply