By Toby Bayard

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

In August 2018, Dean Baquet, top editor of the New York Times, stated that the “biggest crisis” facing journalism today is not happening at the national level. Rather, it’s “the decline of local newspapers.” Sadly that decline is looming on Central Oregon’s horizon.

There was a time when virtually every community had access to up-to-date local news. In the ’50s, TV ushered in the decline of newspapers, but most households continued to subscribe to the local rag throughout the 1990s. But after TV came the online tsunami.

Gone are the days where advertising revenues underwrote local journalism. Rupert Murdoch once described his lucrative classified-ad revenues as “rivers of gold.” These days, Murdoch says he doesn’t know “anybody under the age of 30 who has ever looked at a classified ad.” Paid surveys and endorsements now make it possible for teenagers to earn six-figure annual incomes — while they sleep. At the same time, a growing number of communities are losing their local newspapers. We are at risk of losing The Bulletin.

Some people I know say, “So what?” I see what they mean but on the other hand, local journalists dig through public records, attend local government meetings, ferret out wrongdoing and shine light on backroom deals. Absent that, elected officials are free to function unchecked — with predictable consequences.

The looming threat of losing The Bulletin is a potential body-blow to our community. That said, I’m not in love with The Bulletin. It often irritates me. But, I read it anyway. National news informs me about things over which I have little control. But, local news builds local muscle. Strong communities remain strong when their citizens have a fighting chance to impact their own little patch of terra firma.

Currently, The Bulletin is struggling with circulation-related issues. Some neighborhoods have lost their local carrier, or receive only sporadic deliveries. It’s frustrating, yet I ask those affected to give The Bulletin a little more time. It’s easy for me to say, as my paper delivery remains uninterrupted. But, I don’t only rely on The Bulletin’s paper copy. When I need to research a local topic I access The Bulletin’s online archives. They offer a compendium of Central Oregon history that allows me to follow the thread of a story or issue back to its source. If The Bulletin goes away, we’ll likely lose that resource.

You may be offended by editorials, My Nickel’s Worth comments, etc. I often am. But, The Bulletin also contains information that I find useful. Yes, you can watch the news on the local channel, but diverse coverage, even if it bugs you, also keeps you alive to what is happening in our cities and state.

When the news environment is impoverished, community engagement and cultural life is diminished for all citizens. Political sleuthing aside, The Bulletin plugs us in to local sports and competitions, concerts, lectures, bond measures, store closures, road work, festivals and, of course, crime. Grouse to your friends, send bitter emails to The Bulletin’s management, but please, consider seeing The Bulletin through until it gets its circulation crisis under control — if, indeed, it can.

Citizen involvement powers democracy. The Bulletin’s new “local” approach has merit. It’s no longer buying the majority of its news from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the AP or other cities’ newspapers. It’s delivering “our news” to us. We live here, not in Washington D.C., the Middle East, Europe or the myriad of other places that CNN, MSNBC, Fox et al. zero in on.

Yes, it’s important to know what is going on in other parts of the globe. But if we lose our focus on Central Oregon, where we can make the greatest impact, we lose much of our ability to preserve what we hold dear. It’s something to think about.

— Toby Bayard lives in Bend.

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