Local newspaper journalism matters.

Normally, October is the one time of the year where we pause to write specifically about the importance of a thriving press, the vital role of local journalism in our communities and the newspaper industry overall. But this has not been a normal year. 

Upon discussing National Newspaper Week in our newsroom and what our focus should be this year, we noted that our readers had already heard from us several times over the past months on specific issues that directly impact local newspaper coverage.

In November, a corporate competitor decided to shut down the weekly newspapers in Butte and Meade counties, leaving what we believed to be an unacceptable gap in coverage. The Black Hills Pioneer staff was up for the challenge.

We hired reporters, added pages, expanded our distribution and made space available to publish legal notices. We then made sure we attended and reported on city council, county commission and school board meetings throughout the Northern Hills, nearly doubling our workload.

This also expanded our opportunities for new subscribers and advertising revenue — the lifeblood of how we cover our expenses to operate. 

In February, I testified before the South Dakota House of Representatives’ Local Government Committee in opposition to two anti-newspaper bills. This nearly annual attempt by the Municipal League and a few other governmental representatives continues to push for allowing local governmental entities to post and hide public notices (legals) on their own individual websites rather than through community newspapers — an independent, accountable, third party. No other state in the union allows this.

This pro-internet, anti-newspaper type of legislation has been propagated every year for the last seven years, and fortunately, thoughtful elected officials have prevailed and soundly rejected it every time. Online legals are not a cost-saving measure as they claim. They also never address the real threat of online information being susceptible to hacking, deletion or manipulation. 

In July, Canadian newsprint tariffs threatened our newspaper, the very existence of several smaller newspapers in South Dakota and around the country, and put more than 600,000 U.S. jobs in jeopardy. This would have cost our company nearly $90,000 annually.

Thanks to the support of readers, our U.S. congressional delegation and the coordinated effort of folks in our industry, the U.S. International Trade Commission formally reversed this unwarranted tax in September.

In August, our colleagues in journalism were once again characterized as the “enemy of the American people” and our work called “fake news.”

We are accountable for what we publish. Our stories are written and read through and edited numerous times before they go to the press. We make every effort to verify, double check, correct and produce an unbiased account of every news item we produce.

That doesn’t mean we are mistake-free. We have made and will make errors, but we will print a clarification or correction, and in the rare but more serious scenario, a retraction if this does happen. 

We have always openly encouraged our readers to let us know if they ever find an inaccuracy in our news stories: We want to know about it immediately, so we have a chance to address it. We are accountable for the content on our pages.

The issues above have caused me to pause and speak out on our behalf more than ever before. I have been called to task by readers and told that I should not be openly defending our industry or our journalism colleagues in my columns.

But the calls, texts and notes of support from our readers have outnumbered the naysayers by nearly 12-1 in these instances. I’ll take those numbers.

Through it all, I’m excited to say that newspapers continue to be relevant in all their forms, be it digital or hard copy. We are reaching and informing more people than ever before. In South Dakota, reporters working at 120 community newspapers reach over 206,000 households every day.  

We are the first recorders of the history of our communities. We cover life, death and everything in between as the keepers of the permanent record. We live in the communities we cover and we have a vested interest in the health and success of our towns -- and we really enjoy what we do.

We continue to be the watchdogs of government. We are partnering with the Pierre Capital Journal as they establish the only fully staffed, full-time state capital news bureau, in an effort to provide more year-round state government news coverage than ever before.

Newspaper reporters from around the state of South Dakota cover government at all levels including county commissions, city councils, school boards and more, on behalf of you. We serve as a watchdog for transparency, openness, proper procedure, the facts and accountability on how your community is governed and your tax dollars are spent.

Our staff is made up of citizens of the communities we serve in Lawrence, Butte, Meade, and Harding counties. Our employees are your neighbor, parents at your school, fellow volunteers, customers, friends and family.

On the pages of our newspaper we publicly celebrate births, birthdays, graduations, marriages, anniversaries, personal and professional achievements, awards and retirement. We honor those who have died on our obituary pages.

We’re here for the victories of our sports teams and to show support in their defeat. We inform you about all of the good things happening in our schools and in the community, and shine a light on the tough issues we must face together.

For more than 142 years, we have been providing a permanent written record of the Black Hills. We are proud to be one of many fiercely dedicated guardians of the cornerstone of democracy.

National Newspaper Week is Oct. 7-13, 2018.

Letti Lister of Spearfish, SD, is the publisher of the Black Hills Pioneer, a daily newspaper providing coverage for the Northern Black Hills, and the Nation’s Center News, a weekly newspaper providing coverage for Harding County. She may be reached at letti@bhpioneer.com.

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