Since this week is National Newspaper Week I decided to use this column as a chance to talk about why local journalism matters and the dire situation the country is facing with so many local papers disappearing.

I have mentioned many times in my column the role that newspapers played in my life growing up. I started reading the sports section of the local papers at a young age. I kept up with all of the news, so latest stories, standings and box scores by picking up the morning edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch. My parents always picked up a copy of the local papers as well and I would look through those too. This was during the infancy of the internet, I didn’t have the luxury that I do now of being able to find something at the click of a button so newspapers were where I turned.

Unfortunately the internet has caused newspapers to crumble across the United States. According to a database compiled by the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School called “The Expanding News Desert,” there were 155 daily and weekly newspapers in Virginia in 2004. That number was down to 113 in 2019 and if I had to guess there are probably a couple more to add to that list today. That is 42 newspapers that have closed in 15 years. In the United States 1,800 print newspapers have closed from 2004-2015.

This may not seem like a big deal to some, but there are major issues that come with local newspapers closing. The most important is accountability. If local newspapers continue to disappear there will be no one to inform the public about what happens at board of supervisors, school boards, town councils or any other local government meeting. Each election the reporters speak to each candidate and find out what their platform is and where they stand on the issues. Community events that always get coverage before and after, including important fundraisers for organizations such as the local volunteer fire departments, cancer association and so many others will have to rely on other ways to try and promote their fundraiser.

Yes, Facebook is an alternate source to post this information, but Facebook does not give you a centralized place to find all of the information in Halifax County. You have to scroll or search to find things you are looking for instead of picking up a copy of The Gazette-Virginian three times a week and getting everything you need about Halifax County.

We pride ourselves on providing the community with the most in depth coverage on everything going on within the county and on people who may live outside the county but were once residents.

While there is a debate about national news performing biased journalism that is not something I am going to get into. National news and local news are two different beasts. Local news reporters care about the people in the community. We highlight the accomplishments of our community members, and cover stories and events that would never get covered if it were not for us. Do we make mistakes from time to time? Sure we do, but name someone that hasn’t.

Big companies are buying newspapers around the country to save them, only to gut their newsrooms to next to nothing. Every day it seems I log onto Twitter oce of the big companies that own newspapers have laid off more journalists, copy editors and other staff members.

Recently at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, they laid off their designers so that a group of designers in Wisconsin could do their design. How is a person sitting halfway across the country supposed to know what the people in Charlottesville want to see in their paper? There are weekly newspapers that have one person doing the writing, reporting, editing and layout by themselves. How can you get the best, most accurate reporting if one person has all of these tasks to handle with no help? It just can’t happen.

Local newspapers are either disappearing or being taken over by big corporate companies that don’t care about journalism at all, they just want to cut everything to pieces so they can make a profit.

I leave you with this: support local journalism. Local journalism matters, it matters so that you know what is going on in your community. All of these big decisions and issues that have come up over the last six month would go widely unnoticed if not for the hard work of journalists that get the answers to the questions that need to be asked.

Your help supporting a local newspaper goes a long way so that we can continue doing what we love to do and so that you continue to get the news coverage you deserve.

Until next time.

Johnathan Kirland is a sports writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him jkirkland@gazettevirginian.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnathanK_GV