The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
I’m starting my second furlough week this Monday because I would do anything to insure the survival of the newspaper I love.
When I said this to a newsroom colleague, he said, “How about putting in a full day of work?”
We who create The Arizona Daily Star every day are taking furloughs, or pay cuts, because we love what we do. We didn’t go into this line of work for wealth but because we’re obsessed.
In the last century want ads in our trade publications would ask, “Do you have ink in your veins?” Yes, we do. Only today it’s not ink, it’s pixels.
Since the pandemic, digital readership has boomed. As print advertising has withered, we are relying on our digital advertisers; those all-important grants and fellowships that fund our special projects and investigative work; and you, our beloved readers.
Thank you, dear subscriber, for supporting community journalism. Patriots, I salute your civic conscience. A source once said, “Democracy dies in darkness.” I double-checked this for accuracy and it’s wrong. Our democracy is dying in broad daylight.
Pounded by this pandemic, many of our financially troubled tribunes of transparency, our community watchdogs, our enterprises most essential to a republic’s endurance, are closing shop.
The good news is The Arizona Daily Star soldiers on thanks to you, our extraordinary readers, our patrons, our boosters, our loyal critics and our champions. This is remarkable considering that since the pandemic over 36,000 news workers have been told to empty their desks, take unpaid time off or a pay cut. That constitutes thousands of untold stories of civic corruption, graft and wrongdoing left to metastasize in our body politic.
Pay cuts, layoffs and shutdowns have slammed the Denver Post, the Tampa Bay Times, the Detroit Free Press, the San Francisco Examiner, the Baltimore Sun, the Dallas Morning News, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Kansas City Star, the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee, the New York Daily News, the Buffalo News and the Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, born in 1837, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, born in 1878, and, yes, the Chicago Tribune, born in 1847. That was the year I drew my first cartoon, opposing the Mexican-American War.
Add to this list the hundreds of small-town papers that are withering and turning to dust, in town after town, and it is evident that swaths of our heartland are becoming civic dust bowls. In broad daylight.
America’s trustworthy small town Daily Bugles and Tri-City Tribunes, you know, the “enemies of the people,” have been replaced by the hyperpartisan propaganda peddlers, Breitbart, the Epoch Times, Fox News, the Washington Times, Drudge, Limbaugh, One America News or the largest owner of TV stations in America, the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Their agenda, driven not by fact-finding but by truth-deflecting, pushes a radical, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-expertise, anti-regulation and anti-mainstream press agenda that appeals to the powerless while benefiting the powerful.
The success of this well-funded effort is evident in our response to the coronavirus, a threat that calls for scientific analysis, fact-based information, responsible regulation and respect for expertise. Instead we responded with duplicity, chaos and corruption rather than like the technologically advanced world leader rapidly shrinking in the rear-view mirror.
When the typewriter, notepad and ballpoint pen were the tools of the trade, our classified sales were golden and we bought ink by the barrel. Craigslist vaporized our gold. Free online competitors peeled off paying readers. And at that same time the well-funded right-wing mills were enjoying the fruits of their decadeslong derision of traditional journalism as ”fake news,” sowing mistrust of the “lamestream media.”
It’s a long fall from Cronkite to Sean Hannity, from Woodward and Bernstein to Fox and Friends, from vetting “facts” to reminding American “news” consumers not to drink bleach but to give hydroxychloroquine a try.
In 1877, our desert town was packed with prostitutes, murderers and horse thieves. A lawyer, Louis Cameron Hughes, was unsatisfied with his practice, perhaps because the local entertainment, lynching, was constantly depriving him of clients. Hughes decided the town needed a paper.
More than 133 years later, the Arizona Daily Star rises daily, thanks to you, our partners in service to our democratic experiment. And the local entertainment, lynching, endures as well, if you scan the letters calling for this cartoonist to be strung up.
Writing a plea to the readers of the embattled Milwaukee Journal, Editor George Stanley speaks for every newspaper in America: “Above all, please know how grateful we are to all of our subscribers for supporting independent, evidence-based journalism that informs our democracy.“
Subscribe to the papers you trust. I do.
Thank you for your support through the years and through this difficult period. Stay Safe. Stay well. Stay informed. I will see you in a week.
David Fitzsimmons: email@example.com
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