‘An Act of Civic Virtue’ - The Missourian: Opinion

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‘An Act of Civic Virtue’

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Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014 3:01 pm

Leave it to a national cable news personality to make the case for supporting your local newspaper.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow argued recently that subscribing to your local paper is “an act of civic virtue.”

Maddow made that point after noting it was the relentless investigative reporting by local newspaper reporters in New Jersey that actually broke the Chris Christie bridge scandal.

If it weren’t for the dogged local press corps, Maddow argued, Christie would still be ridiculing this story, attacking the legislators investigating it and persuading most of the national press to dismiss it.

The first reporting on the scandal was by the local traffic columnist in The Record, John Cichowski. The week of the traffic tie-ups, Cichowski was already questioning the Port Authority line that some sort of “study” was to blame.

He pointed to political retribution as a more likely explanation. A steady stream of local reporting followed until, ultimately, another reporter for the same newspaper, Shawn Boburg, uncovered the smoking-gun email from the governor’s deputy chief of staff: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

It also was local newspaper reporting that revealed a web of other questionable behavior by the governor’s staff pertaining to political rivals

Maddow said our democracy depends on local journalism, whether it’s a beat reporter slogging through yet another under-attended local commission meeting, or a state political reporter with enough of an ear to the ground to know where the governor might be when he isn’t where he says he is, or a traffic columnist who’s nobody’s fool.

Maddow said it’s annoying to pay for information in an age where so much of it’s free online. But if you don’t subscribe to your local paper or pony up to get behind its online paywall, who’s going to pay reporters to cover the news where you live?

A free press isn’t that kind of “free.” An accountable democracy doesn’t work without real information, gathered from the ground up, about people in power, everywhere.

Be inspired by the beleaguered but unintimidated reporters of Chris Christie’s New Jersey: Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.

Amen.

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