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Why newspapers still connect with readers

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Years ago a state lawmaker — in a state other than New Mexico — took it upon himself to try and undermine the public’s perception of the value and effectiveness of newspapers. One of his talking points touched on how long newspapers have been around. If I’m remembering correctly, he made a point of tracing them back to the days of the “horse and buggy” as a way of suggesting newspapers belong to some bygone era.

It was an odd line to throw out there. On one hand, it’s technically correct — newspapers have indeed been around a while. But far from being bygone, they’re still here, having survived decade upon decade of challenge and change thanks to their strong and long-lasting connection with the people they serve. And, it must be said, more business ingenuity than they’re sometimes given credit for.

Many things have indeed come and gone since the newspaper first became an important part of Americans’ lives. But if one looks around, there are also many things — things we often refer to as institutions — that have stood well the test of time, precisely because of the essential role they play in their communities. Having covered Roswell, Chaves County and the surrounding area for more than 127 years, the Roswell Daily Record, like other newspapers across New Mexico and around the nation, certainly qualifies as such an institution.

One of the things that creates and sustains any institution is trust — and when it comes to the outlets we depend on for news and information, nothing is more valuable these days.

As I’m writing this, the second day of congressional hearings on how Facebook collects and uses people’s personal information is playing out in Washington. It’s the latest bump in what’s been a rocky road for the social media platform since the last presidential election cycle, when false information masquerading as news was widely disseminated on the platform.

Fake news. It’s nothing new, but technology like Facebook’s has allowed nefarious interests to weaponize it like never before, leaving us faced almost daily with reminders to take care in deciding which news sources to follow and trust. Americans, for the most part, aren’t interested in being duped, and now — forewarned and forearmed — most are exercising more skepticism when faced with headlines too good or too outlandish to be true.

Fortunately, the kind of information we consume is a choice, and there are many good options, in print, on the airwaves and yes, online.

Newspapers, while far from perfect, still promise a commitment to accuracy and a degree of trust with readers that’s unique — and it’s not just newspaper people who recognize that. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in March decided to apologize to the platform’s users for this most recent “breach of trust,” he did so with full-page ads in newspapers.

Important as trust is, there’s more than that to any newspaper’s connection with its readers. Poll those readers on what they see as the most important aspect of their paper, and you’ll get any number of different answers. Coverage of local government. The score from a high school ballgame. An obituary that lets them know an acquaintance has passed away. A public notice that informs them of a zoning change to nearby property. A much longer list could be made — newspapers remain a one-stop shop for items of interest on topics large and small. They reflect their communities and bear witness at times to the events that define them.

And yes, they’ve been around a while — and are still here. There’s good reason for that.

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John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at editor@rdrnews.com.