Local Commentary

The Importance of Local Newspapers

Owner-Editor Nicholas Benton and News Editor Matt Delaney, and by extension, the mighty Falls Church News-Press, were honored by the Falls Church School Board Tuesday night, which took time out from its busy agenda to vote unanimously to place their names on the statewide Virginia School Board Association Media Honor Roll. We are deeply appreciative and honored.

But our purpose in calling attention to this event is to underscore the language of the resolution that speaks to the importance of responsible local newspapers to the communities they serve everywhere. It is well known that local newspapers are under great stress and that thousands have disappeared, including many in this region, leaving many communities unserved, for a variety of reasons but adding up to their bottom lines.

It is bad news for every citizen to learn that one of the nation’s proudest and longest-serving newspaper chains, the McClatchy chain, facing bankruptcy has been bought up by a New York hedge fund. Originally based in Northern California, the highly respected McClatchy chain owned over 30 newspapers nationally, including the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee and the Charlotte Observer, all of course, the only dailies in those markets. It follows other hedge fund acquisitions of struggling newspapers like the Gannett chain, owner of USA Today, the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News.

Those junk bond-hedge fund entities have routinely extracted profits from their struggling new acquisitions by imposition of brutal layoffs and downsizing, gutting the editorial capabilities of the papers while retaining any means by which they can generate revenues that can be sucked out of them. Claims by hedge funds that they will “preserve newsroom jobs and independent journalism” are hollow at best. Local leaders have pleaded with bankruptcy courts that sale of distressed newspapers go to “responsible stewards of journalism, locally rooted and locally invested in our communities” that are “motivated by the desire to serve the broader public interest and not the narrow bottom line.”

In this context, the Falls Church School Board, in its vote Tuesday, affirmed the importance of “the ongoing responsible and exemplary nature of reporting on this community’s public schools,” expressing “appreciation for a balanced and accurate approach to sharing with this community both the challenges facing our schools and the successes achieved by the teachers and students.”

The board affirmed, in the words of the resolution, that insofar as “public schools are dependent on the community’s support in countless ways,” that “much of the community’s knowledge and opinions about public schools rely on responsible reporting by local media representatives who decide which news to share with the community, how much attention will be focused on various issues, and what the tone of the reporting will be.”

It is this newspaper’s mission to achieve just these purposes and we are thankful for the recognition and the fact that, after almost 30 years, we’re still here.