Archived Opinion

Please support the free press

Please support the free press

To the Editor:

This might sound like a puff piece, but it is really a critical review of a local newspaper. I decided to write this after reading the latest edition of The Smoky Mountain News.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream. Not by a long shot. The reporting on everything from an interview with a Ukrainian war correspondent to a ‘Western perspective on the war in Ukraine’ interspersed with stories about a prospective local airport, public restrooms in Sylva, and an Easter Sunrise service and brunch at Lake Junaluska (among many others) might have felt fragmented, but that’s the strength of a local paper. 

With regard to the two top stories, I haven’t read any better reporting on Ukraine and I read the New York Times, daily. With respect to the local news, there was good reporting about a variety of local events including a local man who pleaded guilty to participating in the January 6 riot, and local forest fires, as well as an editorial on the ongoing building mania and associated zoning challenges. This issue also contained a compassionate but balanced article about a nationally prominent author whose book was removed from the reading list in our local school. There was really something for everyone here. The editorial section is always interesting. Everyone gets their say. There are no red or blue topics too objectionable to print. That’s a good thing.

Granted, this issue was more varied and intense than some issues. But the fact that a small staff of dedicated journalists can put together a thoughtful and sometimes even riveting weekly newspaper should be a cause for celebration. The in-depth coverage of last summer’s deadly flood in Canton is a case in point. It should also be a call for support. David Johnson, a best-selling author, blogged in 2019: “Do We Really Need Local Libraries and Small-Town Newspapers?” About local newspapers, he says, “They’re chock-full of good news … and feel-good stories. It is there I can learn what has been going on down the street or what is going to be happening soon. They make an effort to keep the local government honest by reporting on what is happening in council meetings and board meetings. Citizens are invited to air their unedited gripes and concerns on the editorial page. A photographic record is displayed of children who have achieved success of every conceivable kind — sports, music, dance, reading, academics, beauty pageants. Local small businesses are promoted.” Sounds like The Smoky Mountain News to me. But SMN often goes beyond this.  

Johnson ends by saying, “If we lose our local library or small-town newspaper, then we lose a piece of ourselves and what connects us to each other. Therefore, both are worthy of our generous support.” The  expression, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” can be expanded to, “there’s no such thing as a free press unless it’s supported by an involved, generous public.” It has always been thus, and is more important today than ever. 

Glenn Duerr 

(not related to, nor do I know anyone on the staff!)


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