At Home With Vivian: In the News

Change is inevitable and it’s usually for the best. Can you imagine driving a car without seatbelts or air conditioning? But sometimes I don’t like change and it makes me cranky.

My parents and older sisters made me the avid reader I am today. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t being encouraged to read. I can vividly recall as a three or four year old, sitting in the back seat of the family car between my older sisters playing travel games. I’d find a word on a road sign and spell it out loud. My sisters would try to figure out what sign I was looking at and then be the first to read the whole message out loud. Sometimes I’d mix up the letters and for some reason the grownups laughed. It was a fun game.

I’ve often wondered why, having learned to read early, and especially after seeing my mother faithfully read the newspaper every evening after dinner, that I didn’t start reading a newspaper regularly until after I was a full grown woman with a baby in the crib and another on the way. Perhaps growing up in a small town, feeling secure and well loved, made me blind to the world outside of my everyday life?

My college roommate read the paper and was a dedicated Libertarian. We never discussed politics. The most political I ever got during the Nixon and Viet Nam years was to let an activist friend use my dorm window to hang a forty foot long “Impeach Nixon” banner across the front of our building. My mother liked Nixon. I thought I was being radical.

I started reading the newspaper when my husband Jeff and I were stationed with the Air Force in Japan. We lived on the second floor of a high rise apartment building on Yokota Air Base. There were eight apartments on each floor. I noticed that every apartment door mat on our floor sported a newspaper each morning except ours. Then one day ours did too. I asked Jeff about it. He said people at work were talking about the news and we probably ought to know what was going on too. We became regular subscribers to the Stars and Stripes, a newspaper supported by the military, but independent in content.

When my infant daughter went down for a nap, I was in the habit of doing chores around the house and if there was time, I would read a book. But with a newspaper lying on the dining room table, I found myself reading about what was happening not only on our base in Japan, but in arenas all over the world. I became an “informed citizen”. Wow. Did you know there’s a whole world out there? And we’re all connected.

Growing up I saw my mother read the Pittsburg Post-Dispatch and then the Antioch Ledger. (I even got my name and face in the paper a time or two for school activities!) We got the Oakland Tribune on Sundays.

My mother’s picture was in the paper once. She and her coworkers were picketing Ma Bell, the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, in Pittsburg for equal pay for equal work. I remember her telling me that she would never recoup financially the time lost on the job, but that my sisters and I would benefit in the future. That newspaper picture connected the dots for me with what I was learning in Social Studies in high school. Unions. Now I understood.

The Pittsburg Post-Dispatch, the Antioch Ledger and the Oakland Tribune are all gone now, replaced by the Contra Costa Times and now the East Bay Times. I don’t know about you, but having news about Dublin, San Jose, and Moraga in the Local section, isn’t exactly local. Thank goodness we still have the Martinez Gazette. But for how long? We lost our comics this month. How will I ever know if Agnes grows up, leaves the trailer park and becomes the genius entrepreneur I want her to be?

After complaining to my husband that our little local paper has shrunk again I picked up the recent issue of “The Week”, a news magazine we subscribed to about a year ago. (I like the magazine. “The Best of the U.S. and International Media” is in its title. The magazine is a Reader’s Digest kind of version of the news. It quotes numerous well vetted sources representing multiple sides to an issue.) One article stood out. The title was “The death of local news. The watchdogs of America’s local and state governments are disappearing. Can they be saved?” (Whoa. Are you thinking what I’m thinking Pinky?)

“Do we still need local news? Only if things like schools, taxes, infrastructure, and government accountability matter to you.” The article went on to say that when fewer reporters cover local business and government negative things begin to happen – corruption, higher taxes, and bad public official behavior. A 2018 report released by the Social Science Research Network, stated that when a local newspaper folds, that community experiences increased government waste and inefficiency. With less local reporting, citizens participate less in state and local politics. This in turn leads to activists controlling the parties and creating greater political separation. On the other hand, strong coverage of local elections leads to greater voter turnout and more civic engagement.

I miss having an old fashioned daily newspaper. I’d skim over the national news, zeroing in on what might affect me. Then I’d turn to the local section where I’d learn about the upcoming Boy Scout paper drive, when the next PTA meeting would be, who wanted to be my next mayor, and what streets would be closed for repair. I always saved the advice columns and the comics for last – sort of like having a light dessert after a hearty meal.

The article in “The Week” went on to say that the reason for the decline of local news can be directly related to the internet. Where older people will still pick up the paper, young people expect to get their news for free online. Classified ads once made up to forty percent of newspaper ad revenue but internet sites like Craigslist made classifieds nearly obsolete with its free message boards. Consumer ad income was siphoned off by Google and Facebook. Small papers began to close and big corporations bought up local news outlets. “One such so-called vulture capitalist, Randall Smith, purchased several major regional papers – including The Denver Post, the San Jose Mercury News, and The Orange County Register – then slashed operations to the bone to maintain profitability.”

We are lucky to still have the Martinez Gazette in operation, even in its abbreviated form. With the reporting done for this paper by Donna Beth Weilenman and the letters to the editor submitted by our fellow citizens we can be assured that we will have the necessary information needed to make educated decisions during the upcoming election season. For our own well-being, it’s our duty to make sure our fellow citizens are well informed too. Here’s how –

If you don’t already subscribe, call the newsroom at 925-228-6400. For $4.50 a month or $54 a year, you can have the Gazette delivered to your door. If you already subscribe, help spread the local news by sharing your papers with Martinez friends and neighbors.

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