Readers often remind us: This is their paper

I wasn’t the one with the paper route; that was my younger brother who delivered the Everett Herald — six days a week, then — in the View Ridge neighborhood, rolling up each paper, stuffing each in a bag and riding his bike from door to door.

My employment with The Herald came a good 25 years later in 2001 when I was hired to the news desk, editing local and wire copy, writing headlines and designing pages. We both heard from Herald readers, usually with good reason; he, when a paper missed the porch and was left in the wet grass, and I, when a typo got by me in a headline.

What we both would come to understand was how much people relied on The Herald. If we took an angry call, we both knew it was because the newspaper — if it was soggy or had a misspelling — was less than the reader had paid for, less than they expected of “their” paper.

In the nearly 20 years of my career here in Everett, the face of newspapers has changed even as the basics of journalism have remained the same. The erosion of advertising revenue in print journalism over the years has meant hard times across the country: smaller newsrooms, slimmer papers, fewer days of publication — and in the worst cases — the shuttering of newspapers altogether in many communities, creating what have come to be called “news deserts.”

To the credit of its publisher, the devotion and hard work of its employees and the continued support of its readers and advertisers, The Herald has avoided the worst of those fates.

The Herald’s situation is not unique. Across the country, newspapers like The Herald face similar challenges; all are striving to adapt and to continue the journalism that is vital to communities: Telling the stories of residents. Informing and entertaining. Celebrating and mourning. Keeping government accountable. And fostering discussions on the issues that matter most in readers’ daily lives.

This will sound self-serving — and it is — but the presence of newspapers is key to each community. Newspapers encourage participation in elections and local government; they keep governments’ borrowing costs down because lenders trust newspapers to keep an eye on things; and, most importantly, they contribute to the community’s culture by keeping residents connected to what’s happening in their town and to each other.

It’s work, especially in smaller communities, that isn’t always being done by larger news outlets. My favorite bit of snark from HBO’s John Oliver on his show, “Last Week Tonight”: “Without newspapers around to cite, TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer endlessly batting a ball of yarn around.”

In my current position as The Herald’s Opinion page editor — because my contact information is easy to find — I still get complaints about wet and undelivered papers, and readers are still pleased to point out misspellings, typos and bad grammar in the paper.

I happily take the calls and emails, because it’s confirmation that our readers still care, still depend on The Herald to deliver the news in each issue, because it’s the news of their neighborhood, their city, their county, their kids’ schools and teams and their lives. It’s “their” paper.

Jon is The Herald’s editorial page editor. Support him and the newsroom with a subscription or donation.