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From the Publisher’s Desk: The twilight of America’s newspapers


Dear Readers,

Change has a peculiar aroma; a mix of the pungent whiff of nostalgia and the crisp scent of evolution. Just like the aroma that comes from flipping the pages of a freshly printed newspaper, the transition from the analog world to the digital realm is bittersweet. And as our coffee tables gradually empty of the morning paper, we cannot help but feel the weight of what we are leaving behind.

Since 2005, the United States has borne witness to the fading heartbeat of its newspaper industry, with a staggering 25% vanishing into the annals of history. That's two newspapers closing shop every week for the better part of two decades. The black and white world of print journalism, which once chronicled our collective tales, is fading to gray.

Against this backdrop, West Plains finds itself in a unique position.

Let's take a moment to think about our very own West Plains Daily Quill. Sure, it's not the behemoth of yesteryears, and some of us cringe at the digital-only editions. However, the fact that in 2023, West Plains still wakes up to the rustle of a daily newspaper is nothing short of a minor miracle. Think about it; how many towns of our stature can boast the same?

For those of us bemoaning the digital shifts, it's essential to understand the alternative. Would you rather have limited print editions, or worse, witness the complete extinction of our beloved Quill? Our transitions are not whimsical; they are survival instincts in a cutthroat industry.

But why should the layperson care?

Herein lies the concept of a 'news desert,’ a term that sounds almost poetic but carries implications that are anything but. News deserts refer to areas without local news coverage, barren of the scrutiny that journalism traditionally provides. This growing phenomenon means less accountability for local officials, less visibility for local stories, and a community left parched of vital information.

The dissolution of local journalism has left a noticeable void in the very fabric of our communities, and with this absence, an unsettling trend has taken root. Without the vigilant watch of local reporters, corruption in local politics and business has found a more conducive environment to grow.

Local journalism traditionally played the crucial role of a community's watchdog. It held those in power accountable, scrutinizing every policy decision, budget allocation, and business merger. Each action was under the potential lens of exposure, fostering a sense of responsibility and transparency.

However, as local newspapers shutter and news deserts expand, many municipalities and local businesses operate without the level of oversight they once had. Without the fear of exposure, unethical practices can thrive unnoticed. It's akin to removing the referees from a game; players might start breaking rules, knowing there's a lower likelihood of being caught. Furthermore, local journalism provided a platform for whistleblowers, ensuring that any malpractice had the potential to be spotlighted. Now, with fewer channels available, many indiscretions might remain under the radar, slowly eroding the integrity of local governance and commerce. In this shadowy silence, our communities face the risk of becoming fertile grounds for corruption, with the common citizen paying the ultimate price.

Imagine your community without its local news source. No announcements of local events, no reports on school board decisions, no highlight of the local hero who helped a neighbor in need. In this absence, misinformation can thrive, civic engagements decline, and communities suffer.

In this sprawling country, local newspapers like the Daily Quill play the role of community glue, binding us with shared stories and collective memories. Yes, change is hard, and adapting to a new world of digital screens might not have the romance of ink-stained fingers. But isn't some news better than no news?

The next time you log in to read the digital edition or pick up the printed Quill, remember that you're not just consuming news; you're part of a legacy. A legacy of resilience, adaptation, and an undying commitment to the truth. And to those still skeptical, just remember: The medium might change, but the essence of storytelling remains the same.

So, to the Quill and to all local newspapers still standing tall amidst the digital tempest: Here's to you. You remind us daily that while the world might be racing ahead, there's still magic in pausing to read, understand, and appreciate the stories that make us who we are. In a world of fleeting tweets and 24-hour news cycles, you're our touchstone of depth, detail, and diligence.

Here's to many more mornings with the Quill, be it on our screens or our doorsteps. After all, a world without local news is a story none of us wants to read.

Warm regards,
Chris Herbolsheimer
West Plains Daily Quill & West Plains Gazette