Activists Shouldn’t Overlook Local Papers. Local Politicians Don’t.
It wasn’t a lofty opinion piece in the Washington Post. Instead it was a short, well-informed letter to the editor squeezed in between car dealer ads printed in The Mount Vernon Gazette, one of the last, weekly newspapers left in the D.C. suburbs that caught our attention. Notably, it stood out because it was the kind that large, Praetorian Guard newspapers now consider verboten: “citizen” submissions questioning the status quo of local policy-making.
“I have always been a staunch supporter of schools,” this author wrote, “but that doesn’t mean taxpayers shouldn’t ask how the money is being spent.” Details followed as to how the Fairfax County School District per-pupil spending is sky-rocking while test scores are plummeting, finishing with a subtle reference to English as a Second Language (ESL) spending.
The “I” word wasn’t mentioned – we suspect strategically – allowing readers to connect the dots to mass immigration because it’s not hard to do. After all, 139 languages are spoken in Fairfax schools, imposing classroom challenges and whopping increases in ESL costs due to the fact that the county is a well-known sanctuary jurisdiction in migrant circles. And just to make sure there’s no ambiguity about its policies, Board Chairman Jeff McKay recently proclaimed, “We need to be very clear about our expectations, immigration enforcement is done by others” – which is, of course, true. It should be done by others. But county policies allow for no exceptions, because if you’re a county police officer and contact ICE, you get suspended!
So, well done to our Mount Vernon Gazette neighbor: letter sent, published, and point made which has caused others to respond. A dialogue has emerged — which is far more than can ever be expected from America’s big city newspapers. Those opinion pages are dominated by professional-class syndicated columnists pontificating from their cozy Georgetown and Manhattan offices, detached and disinterested from local issues. Yes, on rare occasions, “little people” are granted token ink. When it happens in the Washington Post, it’s usually an obsequious letter lavishing praise on the newspaper’s leftist viewpoints, a less-than-organic letter penned by a PR hack from a D.C. special interest group, or for the self-amusement of erudite newsroom grammarians, a letter from an overly-fussy reader complaining about split infinitives on A-2 in last Monday’s Metro section.
Any semblance of open-forum and grassroots access is long gone as the titans of the legacy print media filter opinion pages to reinforce their own ideologies and agenda.
Community newspapers, at least for the moment, offer alternative access. While they don’t have the cachet of big daily papers, there’s good reason why local officials read them, contribute columns, and love seeing their ribbon-cutting photos on the front page: “All politics is local” and the local paper serves the area where real constituents live, vote and discuss issues. Sure, you can call your local politician (and be politely dismissed) but – trust us on this – nothing spooks a public official more than seeing the flaws of their policies in print, in their own district. Unlike phone calls which get logged and forgotten, politicians understand print is seen by others and has the potential to start a dialogue and local grassroots efforts.
There’s no question that social media has become the preeminent activist organizing resource, but those little community newspapers should still be part of the activist “media mix,” although it’s probably a short window of opportunity. The future of newspapers – national, regional and local – is dimming quickly. More than 2,500 have turned off their lights since 2005, representing more than 25 percent of all newspapers, while each week two more stop their presses.
For now though, local newspapers still offer an opportunity to express views, validate those of others, and influence district politicians. That Mount Vernon Gazette? It leans left but they need content and unlike the Washington Post and others, don’t rigidly scrub submissions for ideological purity. If you’re civil, cogent and relevant, you’ll get published in most places. Write those letters because they can be the catalyst to motivate others and light things up on social media.
After all, you and many others, are now reading this online column that was inspired by one citizen’s local print submission.