Steve Clements is a business faculty member at Eastern Oregon University and is the mayor of La Grande

Imagine for a moment it is 5:30 on a Monday evening. You are just home from work, and as you get ready for dinner, you feel the need to catch up on the local news. You’ve listened to the radio all day and now it’s time to read. You head out the front door, bend over to check the bright orange newspaper box and … no paper! Then you remember, the company that owned The La Grande Observer went bankrupt and stopped publishing the paper. Now how will you find out about the LHS Tigers, or learn about coming community events, or read about the latest actions of the Union County Commissioners or your city council?

Local newspapers all over the country are disappearing. Readership is down as more people turn to the internet for national and international news. Advertising, as well, is headed to the internet, where every mouse click yields pennies in revenue. Perhaps it is a valid argument that local newspapers are a 20th century anachronism, have served their purpose and should now go the way of the dodo, quietly into extinction. Well, I strongly disagree with this argument for the following reasons.

A local newspaper, and the journalism it entails, cannot be found online or in magazines or on blogs. Reporting on issues and events close to home means knowing how to engage in your community. It means knowing what organization or agency to contact when you need to know more. As parents of school-age children, think of the photos or stories about school plays, community service or athletics you would miss. As an outdoor enthusiast, think of the hunting and fishing reports, hiking and skiing opportunities, and changes in land use practices you would miss.

Local newspapers are a reflection of the local culture. When I travel around the country, one of the first things I do is look for and read a local newspaper. I can find out about the issues city councils are addressing, how national issues are playing out locally, a good place to have dinner, or how to spend my evening other than in the hotel room. Local newspapers play a role in supporting tourism, but more important for rural areas, they help us see, know, care about and understand our communities.

So, back to The Observer … There is a real chance the newspaper will stop the presses for good. And if that happens, La Grande and Union County will suffer. What can be done? The ideal situation is another media company could purchase the paper and continue publication. Another, perhaps more creative alternative, is for local people to pool resources, sort of like investing in stocks, and buy the paper. There is a legal mechanism that makes this second alternative possible, but the process would involve attorneys, accountants and an organizing body. For either alternative, time is of the essence. Right now, you can write support letters to The Observer and the Baker City Herald, and urge the current owners to find a way to keep the presses rolling. The time is now, or … when you bend over to look in that bright orange newspaper box, it might be empty and our lives with it.

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