A friend recounted a scene in which he was the proverbial fly on the wall in a public setting. Three nearby store clerks were talking among themselves and got to the topic of local news.
One after another, they talked about how they don’t pay attention to local news. One said it had been a few months. Another a few years.
My friend couldn’t contain himself: “Do you like being stupid?!” he blurted.
The clerks were taken aback as my friend proceeded to rattle off one news story after another that they likely would have found important to their lives if they had bothered to pick up a paper or look at a newspaper website or app.
I bring this up for a couple of reasons. One is that I marvel at how much I learn about my community by reading the stories produced by the Dispatch staff and the good journalists in so many other newsrooms across Ohio.
Another is that local news is the bulk of what appears in our paper, when you consider not only the local news on the front page and in Metro & State, but also that found in Business, Sports, Life & Arts, Weekender and other features sections.
I think of that when someone is in my ear about something they don’t like in a wire-service story detailing the latest rancor in Washington politics.
Sometimes, they are so focused on those political stories that they miss the forest for those particular trees.
In other words, the percentage of stories in this paper each day devoted to Washington politics is a fraction of the total number of stories, many of which are about local topics that you won’t find elsewhere.
Here are some examples from the past few weeks:
The latest blow in court for the defunct online charter school known as ECOT, which owes Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars for inaccurate attendance figures that resulted in overpayments to ECOT.
A front-page story and ongoing coverage about how hundreds of people became sickened at a local restaurant. We were the first to report it on Dispatch.com, and we updated it more frequently and with more detail than any other local source.
Another front-page story continued our groundbreaking coverage of the role of pharmacy benefit managers — the middlemen in the process of pricing and delivering prescriptions to virtually all of us.
In this case, state officials came out with the emphatic statement that those middlemen are driving up costs, which is the opposite of their intended purpose.
Deep in the paper on Aug. 1 was a list of places where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. It’s not big news, but it’s important information to many people, and it’s right there at your fingertips on the first Wednesday of each month in the Food & Life section, both in print and online.
And then there are the many, many stories of hopes and dreams and health and science developments or remarkable accomplishments by local athletes, academics and researchers.
We also provide perspective on local issues, such as Theodore Decker’s column last week on racist comments that blew back with hurricane force on the man who made the comments, who acknowledged that making those comments ruined his business and his life.
Or our editorials and editorial cartoons on a host of local topics.
You also find stories about the fun and unusual things that our neighbors and friends do to make life interesting in central Ohio– like the man in Madison County who turned an old pontoon boat into a floating tiki bar. That also wasn’t big news, but it was fun.
And we know people liked that story, that day-brightener, because they told us so– and because traffic to that story online was high.
So when someone tells me they are considering throwing out the entire newspaper– all of that local news and information– because of a relative few stories from Washington, I’m tempted to blurt out a variation of what my friend said to those clerks: “Would you like being uninformed?”
Thank you for not being that person.–Alan D. Miller is editor of The Columbus Dispatch, Reprinted with permission.