Local newspapers need community support in ’23

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

Fifty years of Post-Record history will be on full display at the Camas Public Library’s Second Story Gallery beginning Friday, Jan. 5, and running through the end of February. 

For any Camas-Washougal resident who has never had a chance to peruse an early 1900s Post-Record (also known as The LaCamas Post and The Camas Post in its earliest years), this show is an excellent opportunity to see just how much news has changed over the past century. 

For instance, the editors who put the Jan. 16, 1914, Camas Post’s front page together made some interesting editorial choices. 

One front page story is seven words long and has no headline: “Mrs. Kelley Loe spent Wednesday in Portland.” 

The July 24, 1914, Camas Post’s front page is a bit more exciting, interspersing tales of automotive feats — “During a recent trip through the Willamette (V)alley, T.S. Munyon motored over 250 miles in one day, averaging over 20 miles for each gallon of gasoline used, and using only about two quarts of lubrican(t) for the machine” — with hog sales, more visits to far-away lands (the Oregon coast, in this case), a farmer’s celebration event that featured a greased pig chase and a pie-eating contest and, of course, more than a few deaths, including a story about the death of George S. Dawson, who had apparently been poisoned with strychnine, and his accused wife (no first name given), who had been married to her first husband, a 60-year-old man, when she was just 17 years old and had a “stormy life” with her second husband before marrying Dawson less than two years before authorities accused her of poisoning him. 

By the late 1950s, the Post-Record’s front pages were covering less gossip and more political and breaking-type news. 

In 1957, The Post-Record’s front pages told of a possible merger between the Skye and Cape Horn school districts; a lawsuit filed by a mayor in a bid to halt a Civil Service Commission investigation into his firing of the local police chief; and a bargaining agreement at the Camas paper mill that would raise men’s wages by 7 cents, to $2.01 an hour, and women’s wages by 5.5 cents to $1.70 an hour. 

In 1987, the paper’s front page noted that managers from Camas-Washougal’s three largest grocery stores — Danielson’s Thriftway, Ron’s Shop ‘N’ Kart and the Camas Safeway — were trying to stop “shoplifting pros” who were stealing the stores’ cigarettes and fresh meat. Their prevention method? “Greeting customers with a friendly smile.” 

Today’s Post-Record is a slimmed-down version of what it used to be, with just one editor and one reporter, but our front pages are still trying to give Camas-Washougal residents the news they need to navigate their communities and be better participants in this “great American experiment” that relies on an informed, engaged electorate and — as we’ve witnessed over the past few years — begins to implode under the weight of mass disinformation and the popularity of far-right, authoritarian politicians who prefer misinformed, highly devoted constituents over well-informed, rebellious activists who fight to protect their community’s most vulnerable people, animals and lands. 

We are proud of the work we are able to produce every week, but we wonder if the typical Camas-Washougal resident realizes how lucky they are to have a hyperlocal newspaper where trained journalists can focus on issues that other, larger newspapers and television stations might ignore. 

That The Post-Record even exists as we head into 2023, is pretty amazing considering the state of newspapers in the United States today. 

According to Northwestern University’s 2022 report on the state of local news, our country has lost more than 25% of its newspapers since 2005, and is currently losing two newspapers — most of them weeklies like The Post-Record — every single week. 

This is a crisis for our democracy and our society,” the report’s authors note in their executive summary. “The loss of local journalism has been accompanied by the malignant spread of misinformation and disinformation, political polarization, eroding trust in media, and a yawning digital and economic divide among citizens. In communities without a credible source of local news, voter participation declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout.”

Holding on to what we have has never been more important. The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the newspaper industry at a time when the flow of information — and the need to dispel mostly far-right misinformation regarding the virus, COVID vaccines and public health mandates — was at its most critical. 

As the Northwestern researchers noted: “Even though the pandemic was not the catastrophic “extinction-level event” some feared, the country lost more than 360 newspapers between the waning pre-pandemic months of late 2019 and the end of May 2022. All but 24 of those papers were weeklies, serving communities ranging in size from a few hundred people to tens of thousands. Most communities that lose a newspaper do not get a digital or print replacement.”
As we honor local history this year thanks to dozens of events the Camas Public Library has planned to celebrate its 100th birthday, we hope community members and business owners in Camas and Washougal will realize how important it is to keep their local newspaper alive.

As a professor from the Medill School of Journalism recently told the Washington Post, in a story highlighting the fact that no major newspapers or broadcast networks picked up a local newspaper’s report on inconsistencies in then-Republican Congressional candidate George Santos’ resume — inconsistencies that have snowballed into a full-blown investigation into Rep. Santos’ misrepresentation to voters — “Local journalists are kind of like having beat cops walking the street. Just as good beat cops can help keep a neighborhood safer, the presence of local journalists helps to keep our politics more honest and our government more accountable.”

Please consider subscribing to or advertising with The Post-Record in 2023.