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League Leaders Bring Home the Lesson of the Police Raid on a Kansas Newspaper

Amy Nelson | Published on 9/13/2023

A police raid on the office of the local newspaper in Marion County, Kansas, in early August has underscored why community news matters — and drawn comment from League of Women Voters leaders here. League of Women Voters of Washington President Mary Coltrane, and Local News Committee Chair Dee Anne Finken, in comments published in the Salish Current, called the event a reminder “of the critical service local newspapers provide their communities.” The Kansas newspaper, said Finken and Coltrane, is representative of many newspapers in the nation — including the Salish Current.

Like other local newspapers across the country, the Marion County Record keeps its readers up to date on community events and developments — decisions by elected officials, goings-on in the schools and the ups and downs of local business. From its newsroom across the street from the county courthouse, the Record also provides a weekly accounting of the administration of justice in Marion County.

Research by the League of Women Voters and others tells us local newspapers are critical to healthy communities. “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy,” which the League published earlier this year, has linked the loss of a community’s newspaper with higher government costs, reduced voter participation, reductions in the number of candidates for local office, increased political polarization and less effective public health campaigns. 

But when a local newspaper is robust and independent, it acts as a watchdog, keeping an eye on the work of government and politicians. Through coverage of community events, a healthy local paper cultivates greater civic engagement, meaning people feel more connected with one another. It is good for our democracy.

Over the past 15 years, the nation has lost a quarter of its local newspapers and is on track to lose a third of them by 2025; Washington has lost one-fifth of its newspapers and newsroom staffing has decreased by two-thirds.

All of this is why members of the League of Women Voters throughout Washington are involved in efforts to support local news and expand awareness of the challenges facing newspapers, in print and online.

In Whatcom County, League member Linda Hughes serves on the state committee that produced the “Decline of Local News” study. “Since the inception of the Salish Current and the Cascadia Daily News, we have seen a significant increase in local coverage of the environment, politics and civic and education issues, all subjects that are so valuable to community members,” she said.

Read the full essay and learn more about what LWV members in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties are doing about the decline: “League chapters, media keep the focus on local news,” Salish Current, Aug. 29, 2023.

— Amy Nelson, local League member, and Publisher of the Salish Current

Photo caption and credit: A roomful of reporters were on hand when then-Gov. Booth Gardner, in office from 1985 to 1993, called a press conference. Thirty years on, only a handful of reporters cover news from the state capitol. (Legislative Support Services)