Local news is all about community involvement

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The quote that is probably best known when referring to the Daily Herald’s mission is Hosea Paddock’s objective to “Fear God, tell the truth and make money” that tops our Opinion Page. But his son Stuart R. Paddock Sr. offered an addendum that may strike even more at the soul of Paddock Publications and the Daily Herald.

“The only excuse a newspaper has for its existence,” Stuart Sr. said, “is the community service it can give.”

Driven by that spirit, the Daily Herald has built its reputation and its success on a commitment to local news in the communities we are privileged to be a part of. This week, our parent company expanded that mission into 11 southern Illinois communities that most suburban Chicago residents have likely never heard of.

The move, to be sure, has a commercial motive. As Chairman and CEO Doug Ray said this week in a memo to staff announcing the acquisition of 12 small-town daily and weekly newspapers, “The purchase is in keeping with our corporate strategy to diversify the company into areas where Paddock’s brand of journalism and marketing acumen will provide additive revenues and profitability. These newspapers fit that model, and we are confident in our ability to grow the business.”

But Ray closed his memo with words recalling Stuart Sr.’s dictum. “There is no substitute for local news and a newspaper which serves the community will remain indispensable,” he said. “We intend to bring that kind of commitment to Southern Illinois.”

Those of us who have been with the Paddock family for decades know very well that every piece of our work — every photo taken; every illustration or chart drawn, every headline written; every high school sports brief produced; every town council or school board meeting covered; every movie reviewed; every “Fittest Loser,” “Cook of the Week,” “Suburban Chicago’s Got Talent” or other initiative undertaken; every story pored over by a copy editor; every multipart series nurtured by a team of reporters, photographers and editors; every editorial and every Opinion column written; every hard copy that rolls off the press and every cyber copy that flashes onto a digital screen; each and every thing we do — is infused with the precept that we are striving above all else to make our communities better.

That is the spirit that we will bring to the dozen entities joining our family this week and, for that matter, that their assumption into Paddock Publications reflects for readers in the Chicago suburbs.

At a time when declining newspaper readership is a tired running joke, investment in the product may seem counterintuitive. But a growing body of research upholds our faith in local news.

A Pew Research Center study, for example, found that citizens rank local newspapers first or tied for first among information sources they rely on in 11 of 16 community news areas — crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services and real estate/housing.

In a 2012 letter to shareholders announcing his investment group’s purchase of 26 small- to mid-sized newspapers, financier Warren Buffett outlined the monetary value of the investment, then added that, “the papers are every bit as important to me — and, for that matter, to society — as other businesses we have purchased for many billions of dollars.”

Buffet recognizes — as Stuart Paddock Sr. recognized half a century ago, and as we at the Daily Herald who are heirs either by blood or passion to his mindset recognize today, and as a dozen newspapers in southern Illinois will recognize soon if they don’t already — that a community’s strength is tied to its citizens’ ability to understand each other and all the institutions they control. The “indispensable” foundation of that ability — in a description common to both Ray and Buffet — remains the local newspaper. “Community” is our excuse for being, and it’s the driving idea behind the growth we announced this week.

Jim Slusher, [email protected], is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.