A reaching for togetherness, nurturing mutual concern, sensing a common bond. These make up the stuff of “community”. “Community” defines us as human beings.
Unfortunately, the towns and communities across North Dakota have been losing “community” at a steady pace over the past 80 years. As rural populations and retail markets decline, public services and Main Street decline and with them community declines.
Community business disappeared without fanfare. Some may have had closing sales but others went quietly. School consolidations made sense but towns no longer had the business they generated.
The job market evaporated so people began commuting to large cities where the jobs were. While in town, they shopped the larger stores. Rural communities have gone into a long dry-down. The threads that gave “community” meaning have been ripping all across the state.
Farmers have been doing better that the small town residents. They have a generous safety net that pays when they lose a crop. This safety net brings money into the state so we should not become envious.
Last year, we lost a couple of weekly newspapers. The pandemic is killing them. When no one is shopping, no one is spending. When no one is spending the merchants can’t afford to advertise.
Even before the pandemic started playing grim reaper, newspapers in large and small cities alike were struggling to survive. In addition to a decline in local advertising, there were fewer and fewer subscribers. So that revenue stream has been dying.
Right now, North Dakota state government is in the process of distributing a cache of federal pandemic money - $54 million – that will be handed out to the hospitality industries. Don’t talk about socialism. This is sorely needed relief for those small businesses that qualify.
But there will be no money for the local newspaper. Very likely, the federal government has stipulated that none of the federal money can be used for newspapers. It’s another one of those strange deals. We should have been more concerned over the federal government financing churches.
But North Dakota can’t afford to spend time bickering over issues less important than the one at hand: preserving and supporting “community”.
Here the weekly paper is critical. When a newspaper dies it is the beginning of the end for the community’s spirit. The newspaper is like flag. It tells the world that “we are here”. When the flag goes down, the fighting spirit of the community goes down with it. The town becomes out of sight, out of mind.
Right now, there must be at least a dozen weekly papers on the edge. The only thing that keeps them going is the many hours donated by the editor. Most of these editors are lucky if they make the minimum wage.
Since newspapers are important for promoting and fostering community goals, they warrant our first consideration in an effort for saving the sense of community.
But these are just words unless they result in some sort of action. The Christmas season is community-building season. It may not make sense for individuals to buy advertising but they certainly can build up the subscription revenue stream.
Let’s be specific. A weekly newspaper subscription would make a good Christmas gift for several reasons: (1) It would be a contribution to saving the voice of the community. (2) It would be a gift that would give every week. (3) It would be welcome in the home of friends and relatives who have moved away.
Even if you have already completed your Christmas list, a subscription would be an easy one to add. It’s an opportunity to share in community building.