Com­mu­nity news­pa­pers re­main a ne­ces­sity

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

About 83 per­cent of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans read the print or dig­i­tal edi­tion of a news­pa­per ev­ery week.

Oct. 2-8 marks the 76th an­niver­sary of Na­tional News­pa­per Week. The an­nual ob­ser­vance cel­e­brates and em­pha­sizes the im­pact of news­pa­pers on large and small com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the Penn­syl­va­nia NewsMe­dia As­so­ci­a­tion, 83 per­cent of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans read the print or dig­i­tal edi­tion of a news­pa­per ev­ery week. PNA also found that news­pa­pers rate 20 per­cent higher than tele­vi­sion for ex­plain­ing the most im­por­tant lo­cal news and in­for­ma­tion.

News­pa­pers mat­ter, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, not the least of which is the watch­dog and over­sight func­tion they pro­vide. If com­mu­nity news­pa­pers cease to ex­ist, so will that level of over­sight. And once it’s gone, it’s not com­ing back.

We can talk about the im­por­tance of news­pa­pers in the ab­stract, but hard ev­i­dence is al­ways more ef­fec­tive.

Re­cently, a se­ries of LNP ar­ti­cles and ed­i­to­ri­als shed light on the Man­heim Town­ship school board’s vi­o­la­tion of the state’s open meet­ings law, the abrupt and un­ex­plained res­ig­na­tion of a su­per­in­ten­dent, and the district’s solid fi­nan­cial pic­ture de­spite pro­gram cuts and deficit warn­ings. LNP and three staffers won the 2016 G. Richard Dew Award, PNA’s most pres­ti­gious award for ex­cel­lence in jour­nal­ism.

Self-pro­mo­tion aside, the cov­er­age of Man­heim Town­ship School District is a vivid ex­am­ple of why com­mu­nity news­pa­pers are still rel­e­vant, even in an age when seem­ingly lim­it­less news sources are en­gaged in a con­stant bat­tle for our at­ten­tion.

With­out LNP’s re­la­tion­ship in the com­mu­nity, and count­less hours logged dig­ging for in­for­ma­tion, what hap­pened in the school district would have re­mained a se­cret.

The break in that case came from an au­dio record­ing de­liv­ered to LNP anony­mously. The record­ing re­vealed that the school board con­spired to de­lib­er­ate pri­vately on its search for a new su­per­in­ten­dent.

The judges for the Dew Award wrote of LNP’s cov­er­age: “The com­mu­nity re­sponse to pub­lished ar­ti­cles and the fact that a per­son trusted a re­porter enough to leak an au­dio tape so the truth could be told is ex­actly what this award is in­tended to honor — the trust a com­mu­nity gives its news­pa­per to right a wrong.”

Penn­syl­va­nia’s au­di­tor gen­eral is launch­ing an au­dit of Man­heim Town­ship School District this month. The au­dit will hap­pen di­rectly be­cause of LNP’s scru­tiny of the district’s spend­ing and lack of trans­parency.

And some­thing else hap­pened as a re­sult of the cov­er­age. Other elected of­fi­cials and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties no­ticed.

Lan­caster County Com­mis­sion­ers be­gan pro­vid­ing more in­for­ma­tion about ex­ec­u­tive ses­sions. School dis­tricts be­gan post­ing more in­for­ma­tion on their web­sites. One school board even ad­mit­ted to and quickly apol­o­gized for in­ad­ver­tently vi­o­lat­ing the Sun­shine Act when mem­bers de­lib­er­ated pri­vately on a board ap­pointee.

The me­dia, and lo­cal news­pa­pers in par­tic­u­lar, play an im­por­tant role in en­sur­ing trans­parency in govern­ment and other pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. It’s one of the main rea­sons we ex­ist. Man­heim Town­ship is Ex­hibit A.

There’s a rea­son you’ll find a big stack of lo­cal news­pa­pers in ev­ery tele­vi­sion news­room. It’s be­cause they are mon­i­tor­ing our cov­er­age; unique in its de­tail, thor­ough­ness and the level of depth.

This is what we do.

The judges for the Dew Award wrote of LNP’s cov­er­age: “The com­mu­nity re­sponse to pub­lished ar­ti­cles and the fact that a per­son trusted a re­porter enough to leak an au­dio tape so the truth could be told is ex­actly what this award is in­tended to honor — the trust a com­mu­nity gives its news­pa­per to right a wrong.”

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