A newspaper’s value in a democratic society

As I read about newspapers filing for bankruptcy (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times), cutting down on home-delivery (Detroit Free Press and Detroit News), or even going online-only (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), I can’t stop thinking about what is at risk here: a plurality of voices that can guarantee a democratic society’s ability to thrive and – most importantly – to improve itself.

A strong and healthy newspaper industry allows people to be aware of and meditate about the changes the world is going through. More newspapers in a city or country means more articles and more opinions, which ultimately lead to a debate about what is viewed as wrong or right about a certain issue or topic.

Societies evolve through debate, and newspapers have represented the battlefield for many causes, from the Civil Rights movement to the on-going struggle to guarantee equal rights for women and same-sex couples.

The reason why newspapers are vital is because they allow readers to respond, to let the editors and reporters know what the public thinks. Letters are published and a discussion might soon start and lead to more articles, more opinions.

Don’t get me wrong, broadcast media are just as important for a democratic society’s success. The difference, though, is that radio and TV (especially) are more efficient at quickly spreading the news, not allowing in most cases people to think about what they just saw and heard.

Another problem shows up if the news they spread is pretty much all the same (that’s what is happening in the TV news market in Chicago). The efficiency of TV news – in this case – is limited.

On the other hand, the newspaper is something that can be kept, read over and over again, passed around.

The news on the internet? Its potential for debate is even greater than that of newspapers. Unfortunately, the enormous amount of information out there can scare away many people.

The newspaper instead concentrates everything inside its one daily issue, in which you can find all the news you need to know and many starting points for a healthy discussion at home, at the workplace or even on the bus with a total stranger.

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