“You need me a lot more than I need you.”
Those were the stinging words of an unhappy newspaper subscriber who called me on a late work night at The West Side Journal, a small community newspaper where I work as the editor.
The caller was incensed about an opinion article I wrote after Donald Trump won the 2016 election. He was sick and tired of me and the rest of “the media” calling him stupid and fer cryin’ out loud, the man won the presidency fair and square, so can we just leave it alone?
He was done with our newspaper. He wanted to unsubscribe from the paper. My column, a 5-by-10 inch section on the opinion page in between the classifieds and the lifestyle pages, angered him so badly that he didn’t want the taint of liberal trash in his home anymore.
My columns are usually a little provocative, considering the rural, conservative demographic that we serve. But nothing severe.
At his request, I took down his address and name to take him off of the mailing list. Before he hung up on me, he told me my opinion wasn’t worth anything, that the opinion section shouldn’t be in the newspaper anymore and that he was going to tell all of his friends and family to unsubscribe to the paper.
“And let me tell you somethin’ else. You need me a lot more than I need you.”
Yowch. And ain’t that the truth.
The fact is that the news media does need the public, very badly. In a world where newspapers are constantly being undermined, we rely on subscriptions to function as a business. No, not everything in the news is going to be agreeable, but the beauty is that those opinions and voices can be contested. More to the point, you can contest those opinions.
The unhappy caller highlighted a disturbing trend I’ve witnessed since this whole election cycle kicked off in 2015. People don’t give a shit about the facts. They only want their own beliefs to be reaffirmed.
Maybe that’s always been the case, but with the glut of faux-news and yellow journalism that pervades the web today, it’s become an enormous problem. There exists some invisible army of anti-journalists online that is slowly tearing away at the Fourth Estate and, in effect, our functioning democracy. If information is power, then misinformation has to be a weakness.
Our newspaper is small, but we are, in fact, a newspaper and the people in our office are professionals.
So when someone threatens our business because they can’t tolerate an opinion column, it is upsetting. Newspapers are not just a place for news. They are also place for art, event listings, community-submitted photos, art and sports.
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is pick up copies of other newspapers in small towns. Each one often has a distinct style that reflects the community it serves.
Of course websites are a great way to find new customers as well, but the paper is a tangible part of the community. It’s part of a community’s identity, I think. The West Side Journal, for instance, has been around since the 1850s.
It’s true, that we need you more than you need us. That’s what makes newspapers strive, whether it’s on the West Side or Wall Street, and that’s a good thing.