You are reading this week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper during National Newspaper Week.
National Newspaper Week is not a holiday. It’s not vacation either; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
As far as I know, this newspaper has printed at least once (and for three decades twice) a week ever since the Feb. 25, 1899 Journal. Schedules sometimes change, with early printing the weeks of holidays, but we strive to be your every-Wednesday must-read (with the cooperation of the U.S. Postal Service).
Unlike in 1899 — for that matter, 1999 — The Journal has electronic media with which we can also report news that occurs between publication dates, such as public safety situations, weather bulletins and school closings. (For instance, the Platteville Common Council's 2014 budget deliberations; note that our online story is quite different from the print versions because municipal budgets tend to be a moving target.) What’s most important in a newspaper is the information it contains; how it’s delivered has evolved and will evolve in the future.
That first issue of The Journal noted it would be “published each Saturday morning and devoted to the interests of the city of Platteville, and to aid us in bringing this city prominently before the public eye.” The first first page of The Journal indeed has a local story: “Clean the streets,” which notes “the deplorable condition of our Main street and its crossings during the present week.” So commenting on the local issues of the day has indeed been a feature of The Journal since volume 1, issue 1.
I’ve been asked about commenting about issues beyond our corner of the world. I’ve avoided doing that for the most part because people don’t necessarily read The Journal to see what I think about, for instance, the traveshamockery going on in Washington as we went to press. People do read The Journal to find out that, for instance, the federal government shutdown kept open the Mississippi River locks and dams, but closed the Grant River Recreation Area, and canceled National Guard training last weekend because it cut National Guard training pay.
(OK, an aside: The “shutdown” is a political game that could have been prevented at any time since 1980, when Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti’s legal opinion ended 191 years of keeping the federal government operating at previous appropriation levels until new appropriations were enacted. The “shutdown” is taking place because it benefits the White House, both houses of Congress, and both parties politically. And the “shutdown” will end only with a solution, whatever it is, that everyone involved feels politically benefits themselves.)
The Journal reports on issues of local importance. That means schools, what government bodies are doing, and what government officials are doing, including law enforcement. “Issues of local importance” can mean state, national and even international issues, but only based on their local effects. There are plenty of other media to cover what’s going on in Madison or Washington, for those who can stomach that sort of thing.
The National Newspaper Association provided some guest columns for us for this week. We don’t have room to run any of them, because, as you can see to the right of this space, local issues take precedence.
This deserves excerpting, though, from Georgia newspaper editor Jim Zachary: “Newspapers are about our child’s first school field trip, a Friday night high school football game, a livestock show hosted by the agriculture extension office or an increase in our property tax rate. At least those are the things that a relevant newspaper is all about whether your read it online or sit down with a morning cup of coffee and enjoy the traditional printed edition the way it was meant to be.”
(And what fine Friday night high school football games Platteville, Iowa–Grant and Belmont had. As well as Potosi and UW–Plattevile, but theirs were Saturday.)
Zachary also wrote: “We hold public officials accountable, advocate for openness in government and champion the cause of ordinary citizens, because we are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, county and coverage area we serve. … Though in many places reporters have reduced themselves to simply being a mouthpiece for local government, reporting what officials want them to report and hiding what they don’t, a community and a democracy is best served when the newspaper provides a forum for checks and balances as the Fourth Estate of government. …
“We are not the enemy of government — rather we are the champions of citizens — of our community. We know if newspapers do not stand up for citizens and protect the rights of free speech and the rights of access to government, then no one will. We work each day to build a culture and incubate an environment where those elected feel accountable to those who elected them. Newspapers should be the most powerful advocate citizens have and be their open forum for a redress of grievances. Any newspaper that represents the interests of the governing, more than the interests of the governed, is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.”
It is said that journalism is the only profession protected by the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment. That’s not correct, because the First Amendment is for everyone, not just the news media. (That also is true of the Wisconsin Constitution’s counterpart to the First Amendment, and the state Open Meetings and Open Records laws.)
Read the headline, and you should expect an answer for that statement. The Journal has existed since 1899 because Platteville is important (as are Belmont, Dickeyville, Potosi and the Iowa–Grant school district), and what happens here is important. What happens in this area is most important to those who live here, and that’s why the Journal is here.