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Jim Zachary: Your community, your newspaper, your life

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As newspaper executives struggle over whether the news should be digital first, tablet first, SMS first or print first, readers know exactly what they want their local newspaper to be — community first.

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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.

Newspapers — viable, strong, growing, thriving newspapers — are all about the communities they serve.

Sure, in the interest of transparency, some newspapers have struggled in recent years. Many more are growing.

So what’s the difference between the newspapers on a downward spiral and those that are adding days of publication, adding staff and printing more sections and pages than ever before?

The difference is community.

Newspapers, like any business or individual, will always struggle when they stop doing the things they do well.

In a quest to be more modern, to be more business savvy, or to use more silicon, we cannot lose sight of the single most important characteristic and historically important aspect of a quality newspaper —  you — our readers.

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. 

Newspapers hold public officials accountable because it makes the place we call home a better place to live and because it is the right thing to do.

Newspapers do not make the news.

They report it — all of it.

Of course, a newspaper wants to celebrate its community. We share the great human interest stories, provide a slice of life in the county, highlight worthwhile causes, focus on interesting people and most especially on our young people with every edition.

With intelligent, thoughtful, compelling commentary, coupled with clearly written, straightforward news reporting we work every day to tell the truth and in that way we remain a vital and positive part of the community.

The newspaper belongs to the community. That is why we work every day to give citizens a voice, to empower them and tell their stories.

That is why we hold government accountable because at our very core we believe that government belongs to the governed and not to the governing.

Great newspapers, relevant newspapers that are embraced by their communities and consequently profitable, growing newspapers have not forgotten that role and have not abandoned these values.

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.

Newspapers, the good ones, still make a difference in the communities they serve.

As newspaper reporters, editors and staff, we have the daily, or weekly, opportunity to do something — something that matters to our community and in all of our lives.

As long as people still read, still care about their quality of life, still love the place they call home and still pay taxes, newspapers that retain their role as the Fourth Estate and that celebrate the lives of ordinary people, will remain relevant, will matter to the community and be a part of your every day life.

Jim Zachary is a newspaper veteran who has championed government transparency. He is the editor of the Clayton News Daily and the Henry Daily Herald in metro Atlanta and director of The Tennessee Transparency Project.

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