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FROM THE EDITOR: Make the world a better place — read the newspaper

I blame the internet.

While I love being able to look up the capital of Kurdistan (Erbil) in a heartbeat, figure out where Uganda lies in Africa or find the Rachael Ray recipe for spaghetti and meatballs that was so tasty last time, I am very disappointed by the way the internet has affected modern society. Sadly, the free knowledge available online has not made us wiser as a group.

Rather it has divided us.

Admittedly, people probably read more. More Facebook posts, blogs, gossip and opinion. Sports fanatics read more sports. Crafty people peruse Pinterest. Those on both sides of the political aisle find websites that preach to already held beliefs. We become more of the same when we go to the world wide web.

And that’s why I love newspapers so much.

No. 1: You never know what you’ll find in a newspaper

I am no sports fanatic, but I will almost always read at least one sports story in the newspaper, my interest piqued by a photograph, a headline, or maybe a face I recognize.

While reading the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, I had decided to skip Sam Cook’s story on herring stocks in Lake Superior, until I saw the graphic that showed the dramatic — very dramatic — decline in commercial herring harvest over the past 100 years or so. Would I have found that story online? No.

By reading last week’s Pine Journal, a newcomer to Carlton County could have caught up on a year’s worth of top stories, found out more about a homicide suspect’s criminal past, figured out winter parking in Cloquet, learned how they party in Finland on New Year’s Eve, got their hockey fix and perused the community calendar for upcoming events, not to mention the TV guide if they just wanted to stay inside where it’s warm and vegetate.

No. 2: Newspapers give us a common narrative

Yes, we all want to be individuals, it’s the American way, right? But your local newspaper is the only business created solely to cover the events, issues, crimes and people that are a part of this place we call home in an unbiased manner. We cover meetings that you can’t get to, where elected officials make decisions about millions of dollars that come out of your taxes and affect your everyday lives. We go to sports games, plays, festivals, lectures, performances and write about history, business, the environment and your neighbors.

I’ll never forget the person who stood up in a landfill meeting five years ago and asked why she “hadn’t been informed” that an industrial landfill was coming to her neighborhood. Happily, others informed her that it had been covered in the Pine Journal multiple times (while I was busy dealing with my own existential crisis in the back of the room).

By reading the newspaper, people not only become informed about the community in which they live, they can also then discuss those stories with others. They can laugh or pound the table in frustration. They can take action. Whether it’s a happy story about a local barber, some horrific crime or a new program to help people with mental illness, information is better when it’s shared and all can benefit from it. That’s what I mean by a common narrative. We share the story of our community.

Those same readers can also write letters or columns in the newspaper, thus becoming part of the common narrative. And then maybe we can begin to address some of those problems that are plaguing us, once we are all aware of the issues.

No. 3: Newspapers have standards

The internet doesn’t. That is the beauty and the beast of the internet. Anyone can pretty much post anything. They can make a website claiming the moon is made of cheese. They can create fake news and dupe thousands. How do you know what is real and what is not real online when you can find a website to support whatever version of the “facts” people have chosen to believe? And how can we make sound logical decisions about anything — climate change comes to mind — if people are choosing alternative facts like there are two (or more) alternate sets of realities?

No. 4: You can hold newspapers.

You can sit at the table and read a newspaper. You can clip recipes and photos, and stick them on the fridge, sometimes for years. A bookmarked photo on an iPad isn’t the same. And a legal notice printed in a newspaper can’t be deleted with the push of a button somewhere. It can be filed away and kept until one day when it’s needed.

Certainly newspapers are not perfect and that’s why we run corrections. But all of these reasons — in my humble and certainly biased opinion (that we’re publishing on the opinion page) — explain why the world would be a better place if more people bought and read their local newspaper.

~ Jana Peterson