Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson

My mom has a peculiar habit.

To be totally transparent, she has a few peculiar habits, but to be concise I’m going to focus on just one.

She subscribes to her local newspaper, The Springfield News-Sun. She has the routine most expect; mornings on the deck with coffee and her newspaper. When she comes to visit, she brings me a stack so I can get a taste of my hometown. She’ll send snippets of articles she finds particularly interesting. There’s a yellowing quote taped to the fridge that has been there a few decades to help her through parenthood, stolen from the folds of the paper.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau

Despite all this, when the time comes to renew, she shrugs and says “nah.” A few weeks go by and then on Saturdays, she starts pushing my stepfather to run to the gas station to buy her a copy. Then maybe on a Wednesday or Thursday, too.

Then eventually, without fail, she’s a subscriber again.

“I missed all the gossip!” she’ll say.

“I have to check the obituaries every day” (and also the crime beat).

Whatever it is, she just loves her local newspaper.

Unfortunately, according to a study released earlier this year, hers, and the one you’re reading now, are on the surviving side of history’s battle ax.

The study, released just this July from the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, notes that more than 2,000 newspapers have called it quits in the past 15 years. The study goes on to report that the number of journalists employed in the U.S. has been cut in half. With the journalists so, too, has gone the ad revenue and millions (literally, print circulation declined by 49 million in this time frame, according to the study).

I’ve had the misfortune of working at one such publication in its final years, The Madison Press published in Madison County, Ohio, since 1842. In July 2018 the paper switched to digital-only and by February 2019, it was no more.

In my time there I covered crime, courts and town council, and basically anything else asked of me (which can be a lot when you’re one of two reporters in a newsroom in the rural Midwest). I was only at the paper a year due to my family.

In that short time, issues I reported on included a village administrator who stole more than $700,000 (yes, you read that number right) from the village budget over the course of four years; organ and tissue donation recipients; a new club specifically for girls who code; the retirement of a nearly five-decade school administrator; and numerous trials of criminals whose neighbors came in to the office to thank me for the dedicated coverage.

Now, that newsroom is quiet. Those jobs have dissipated. Though I’m hundreds of miles from the area, I still have friends there. They say they just didn’t know what they had at the time.

They are living in what the study would perhaps define as a “news desert” and to put it simply — the publication is missed.

As News and Tribune Editor Susan Duncan wrote in her Oct. 10 column “Newspapers more than information peddlers,” newspapers offer more than what their name suggests and it would be a disservice to those that have been lost, if we don’t slow down and enjoy the ones we have.

Erin Thompson is a mother to two boys, two cats, one dog and one fish and wife to a man who had no clue what he was getting himself into. When not spending time with that motley crew, she is writing, attempting house projects, and checking her email at ErinwithanER@gmail.com.

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