It’s been said that if a newspaper is not regularly making its readers uncomfortable then it’s not really doing its job.
Last week it came to our attention that a reader, who apparently objected to certain content that was published in our July 17 edition, stole all copies of the newspaper from at least two of our distribution locations.
But it’s a ‘free’ paper, so it can’t be stolen, right?
Wrong. Taking multiple copies of a newspaper – whether paid or free – with the intent of preventing others from seeing a news item or advertisement is a big deal. It’s stealing – and it’s also a form of censorship – and has been prosecuted as such in many states.
In 2002, the Mayor of Berkeley, Calif., was found guilty of removing 1000 copies of the free local paper from newsstands the day before an election in which the paper endorsed his opponent.
In 2005 in St Mary’s County, Md., a former sheriff settled a lawsuit in which he was found to have violated the First Amendment when he attempted to dispose of some of the local weekly’s print run after it published an unflattering story about him.
There are many other sordid examples of people trying to thwart the work of journalists, and even on a small scale, this activity should be highly offensive to anyone who cares about freedom of the press.
Not only is this directly damaging to a small, locally-owned company like ours, it also damages the dozens of other small businesses that are paying to display their advertising in front of our readership of more than 4,000 locals and visitors.
More fundamentally, this behavior denies the public its access to information and sends a message of intolerance. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘shut up’ to someone you disagree with.
It’s my belief that when it comes to news, a good community newspaper is obligated to cover the good, the bad – and the ugly. Fortunately there’s an abundance of good news in Moab and not too much ugly – but when it happens, it can’t be ignored.
If you don’t like how we report on an issue we want to hear about it. We know we don’t always get everything exactly right. Journalism is often called the ‘‘first rough draft of history”.
We actually like hearing dissenting opinions. It’s good for journalism. It’s good for readership. And that’s good for business. There is no shortage of ways to express your opinion in the paper – letters to the editor, call or email, take out an ad, suggest a news story, or even write a column in this very spot. Just don’t try to kill the story. Suppressing news in a community is no more healthy than suppressing the truth in other settings.
There are people who would just as soon see us only report positive news. And there are those that want only the hard news. I believe the paper’s role is to do both – to be a booster and a watchdog.
Community papers have a special obligation to cover the full spectrum of local news because they have such high levels of readership. In recent years, newspapers in big cities have been weakened by various online alternatives for news and advertising, but the readership of small town papers remains at very high levels, as a proportion of the local community.
Free newspapers are far from free. Costs are numerous – writing, editing, graphic design, syndicated content, accounting, sales, printing, recycled paper, ink, delivery and much more. It all starts from scratch each week. It may seem quite bizarre to put our hearts into our product each week, only to turn around and give it away free. But that’s what we’re committed to doing.
Among the many things I love about newspapers, is the opportunity to bring together so many aspects of our diverse community. In Moab, the differences that can sometimes divide people can come together within our pages – the political left and right, the locals and the visitors, ‘new Moab’ and ‘old Moab’, the preservationists and the developers, the motorized and the non-motorized, business and nonprofits, owners and workers, young and old. There’s actually room for it all in the newspaper.
We’re all more likely to grow and find common ground when we see all sides of our community. As the saying goes – sunlight is the best disinfectant. And Moab’s got plenty of sunlight.
Let it shine.