By Daniel Zarchy
City on a Hill Co-Editor In Chief

Last year was a landmark year for many reasons. We saw everything from the presidential election and the Beijing Olympics to in-depth coverage of Heath Ledger’s untimely death. But in 2009, as much as these same reporters try to stay on the other side of the story, newspapers have been headline news — and not in a good way.

Our country’s oldest and most venerable journalistic institutions are hurting. The Philadelphia Inquirer is in bankruptcy, the Rocky Mountain News has closed its doors, and even our own San Francisco Chronicle gasps its last breaths; student newspapers are left in somewhat of a gray area.

This week we’ve seen the Oregon Daily Emerald, University of Oregon’s student newspaper, go on strike in protest of what they see as a violation of their editorial independence by its board of directors. The original decision by the board, to hire a publisher with a good deal of power, came as part of sweeping changes intended to help the Emerald live within their means.

The specific details of the Emerald strike are far too nuanced for me to take a stance just yet; after all, as the old saying goes, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Still, as the world of professional journalism crashes down around those who hoped to one day be paid for putting pen to paper, this debate brings up a sad truth.

The Emerald is deeply in the red, and is being forced to make some tough decisions. City on a Hill Press is actually not doing too badly financially; as the economy continues to hurt, our advertising revenue — our main source of income — has stayed fairly strong. We haven’t yet had to cut our distribution or reduce our frequency of publication: fates some of our fellow UC papers have suffered.

The demand for professional journalism will never go away, and despite the thousands upon thousands of news blogs popping up claiming to be the “future of journalism,” nothing is that simple. Most major newspapers — those with the resources to send correspondents to Washington or fund long-term, investigative projects — are going the way of the dinosaur, and nobody is stepping up to fill their places.

We’re coming to rely on fewer and fewer official news sources and citizen journalism attempts to fill in the cracks.

Still, we need newspapers, and we need to have papers that recognize their place and mandate in society, to inform the public about matters relevant to them, and to put in the time and effort it takes to get to the bottom of stories. While having more than one publication working on a story can be beneficial — competition forces reporters to dig deep — most papers need to recognize what they should concentrate on, and consumers should demand what they want to see in their local papers.

As everyone jumped to try to be the first to announce Clinton’s appointment to Secretary of State, or to opine on President Obama’s Iraq evacuation timetable, in-depth local reporting has fallen by the wayside.

Locals need to support their local papers not out of obligation, but out of a need for information. Newspapers that undergo rounds of editing, fact checking and a commitment to impartiality still produce the best journalistic content.

Though many lament the drop in subscriptions and advertisers as effects of the economic crisis, papers have been failing in their mission. As children of the Internet age, we know the first rule of economics in our bones, something that the newspaper industry as a whole has failed to acknowledge: people will not — ever — pay for something that they can find for free.

To survive, a local paper needs to provide something more than a dressed-down version of a story from It needs to provide a local window into our community.

Newspapers shouldn’t be a charity, and subscribing shouldn’t be an altruistic act. Support your local paper, but push for them to deserve your business. Make it known what you expect, and hold them accountable. A world with a vibrant journalistic industry is better for everyone, and an interested, proactive public is the key.

<a href="">Discuss and share this story on SlugLife.</a>