The Freeman’s Journal, our village’s venerable newspaper of 213 years — and one of the oldest continually published weeklies in the country — has a long and complicated history, both of news and of ownership. It has chronicled the workings of our town and the opinions of our residents through the country’s wars, holidays, prohibitions and depressions, as well as through the state’s droughts, blizzards, elections, floods, tragedies, surprises and celebrations.
The Freeman’s Journal is our newspaper of record, printing legal notices, death notices, opinions, letters, events, culture, and all matter of news and amusements. It has been known to publish the weather reports and the temperatures and the amount of rain or snow that has fallen over a given week. In fact, the Journal is a true and unbiased document that reveals — and archives — the fascinating and varied story of Cooperstown. Not every village or community can boast this.
Although for the most part we have taken our gallant newspaper for granted as it appears on our doorsteps and in our mailboxes week after week, we need to take a hard look at its accomplishments, and an even harder look at its challenges. For starters, a newspaper should be a watchdog, keeping an eye on the activities of its politicians and businesses and surrounding social media to prevent the overstepping of rules and boundaries such as fraud, corruption, the propagation of rumors and untruths and the spreading of misinformation. A newspaper should be as well a reliable reporter, filling its pages with solid local information — on schools and school boards, jobs, sports, businesses, zoning and planning boards, tag sales, real estate, police matters, social and cultural events, town meetings and political activities — the connective tissue of the community. It should drive the economy and the progress of the village, and it should make its residents feel like they, and their village, matter. It should not have typos and misspellings, but it often does.
Since 2004, roughly one in four newspapers in the U.S. has closed, and many of the survivors have had their staffs and circulation slashed to shreds. Three million people live in cities, towns and rural counties with no local news coverage. These 1,300 communities have no local reporters telling their stories and keeping an eye on the issues most critical to their local democracy and quality of life. There are no advertisers to offer household goods, culinary delights, jobs, pets, land, houses, boats and wood for sale. And there is no newspaper of record, printing all the legal and tax notices, a repository of community knowledge — births, deaths, families, businesses and letters to the editor.
These newspapers have been, and are being, taken over by hedge funds, poorly regulated off-shore financial institutions that control a third of the newspapers in the country. These funds have debts to pay and investors to please, and no interest in sustaining their purchases; they cut staffs, bring in articles from faraway sister newspapers on national subjects, and ignore the growing digital presence, claiming it a waste of money.
When a newspaper disappears, its readers become less connected. They tend to participate less often in municipal elections; elections are less competitive; political polarization increases; corruption goes unchecked; government costs go up; disinformation becomes the norm. We must not let this happen. There are a number of organizations starting up to help stop the takeover of our local news. The National Trust for Local News is dedicated to keeping local news in local hands; and LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers encourages independent ownership and editorial control to ensure that more voices in a community are heard, more original journalism is produced and there is no undue influence by corporate, religious or partisan interests.
The Freeman’s Journal is here to keep local news in local hands and to continue recording the growth and change of the Village and its occupants.