I recently completed two years of service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Moldova, and I have a message that I would very much like to give to my fellow North Carolinians; Enjoy your local newspaper, value your local newspaper and understand that without it, your community would be tragically worse off.
Sound dramatic? Actually, it is an understatement, and I didn't realize just how much until I lived in this post-Soviet-Bloc country for a while, living without a local newspaper.
I am still stunned by the pitiful lack of access everyone here has to reliable information. Everything from event times to crimes and government proceedings must be learned by word-of-mouth or through haphazard social media. This not only makes life, business, industry and government dramatically less efficient here, but it opens floodgates for fraud and abuse. The first step in building a dictatorship, after all, is to discredit or even destroy the media. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and is desperate to improve its condition, but it can only improve so much without a free and local press.
Residents in the major cities have daily papers, but that is comparable to the people of North Carolina having only the News & Observer and the Wilmington Star. Your local newspaper will have reporters attending municipal meetings and visiting offices regularly, and scouring the area in search of news to keep you informed — newspapers have for centuries helped residents run their towns, cities, counties and states.
Here in my city of 10,000 people in northern Moldova, there is only a weekly, 4-page, tabloid-size "newspaper" published by the district government. It has no news value, as it tells only stories the government wants to tell — not in an overt propaganda way, but by simply reporting fluff.
Local newspapers in the U.S. give power to the people like no other medium. Television and radio are mostly in the entertainment business, with spots for news, while local newspaper staffs are mostly reporters, and not entertainers. The Internet is still filled with "fake news" because a working, simple and ubiquitous revenue model hasn't been developed yet.
Residents in my city (Rîșcani -- pronounced; "Rish-cahn,") will read nothing about real problems in their government, their schools or hospital. They have no coverage of local sports, school events, special events, crimes or other public safety issues. People here are born, married and die without public notice. Businesses start, grow and fail with no support of advertising. Legal notices are nonexistent, and nobody can write a letter to the editor and be heard fairly. Nobody.
And, understandably, most Moldovans believe this is perfectly normal, because they had been governed by heavy socialism for a half-century starting in WWII, and are still trying to climb out. They are, by and large, still comfortable in just letting the leaders lead and the followers follow.
Most Moldovans will tell you that government corruption is rampant here, but the fact is that they really don't know. Since they have no clear and unbiased news source, they simply believe the worst, an insidious mindset that fosters a culture of defeat and failure.
Even if you never read your local paper, it is still keeping an eye on your community, informing the public and playing a very important role in the checks and balances so important to a free society. But, every time you do read your local paper, you become a better-informed resident, and are therefore contributing to the strength and vitality of your community.
Peace Corps Small Enterprise Development Volunteer, 2015-17
Photographer / Journalist, The News Reporter, Whiteville, N.C., 2001-13