I believe that I have been contributing newspaper columns to The Pilot for about 20 years or so. It has been personally rewarding in many ways.

Here in the Sandhills, the paper enjoys a particularly bright and engaged audience. After a column of mine appears, I will often receive many emails from readers, pro and con. They can be quite enlightening and sometimes shocking, but always appreciated.

The paper’s editorial policy set by Sam Ragan, the publisher from 1968 to 1996, is one that every paper in the nation might well emulate. Sam had written, “A longtime ago, a wise editor said, ‘The function of a newspaper is to print the news and raise hell.’ I haven’t been able to improve upon that definition.” Sam was named North Carolina’s poet laureate.

I was a marketing executive for the Hearst Corporation for eight years. One of its strengths stemmed from the fact that it was family owned. The Pilot is equally blessed by the fact that its ownership enjoys a long tradition of sound family publishing expertise. It also has benefited financially from the fact that it has wisely diversified its properties in ways that help the community as well as the paper.

Unfortunately, journalism’s picture nationally is far less positive. The Pew Research Center recently reported that newsroom employment in the United States has fallen 26 percent in the past 13 years.

A report by the Knight Foundation concluded that since 2004, the U.S. has lost one-fourth — 2,100 — of its newspapers. This includes 70 dailies and more than 2,000 weeklies or non-dailies. By the end of 2019, the U.S. had 6,700 newspapers, down from almost 9,000 in 2004. Worse yet, of the nation’s 3,143 counties, 200 have no newspaper and no credible alternative source of reliable information on critical issues.

Paradoxically, a Pew study found that most Americans (71 percent) believe their local news sources are well-financed.

At the same time, we have been living in a dangerous time for our democracy when a former president has spent over four years denigrating the press and still promotes the colossal lie that he won the last election. He has been able to do this abetted by right-wing media outlets that support the lies his devoted followers soak up 24-7.

It is my belief that the future health of newspapers will be directly tied to the news and opinion reading habits of students, particularly those in high school and college. I have always encouraged my offspring to subscribe to papers. I encourage school authorities to do likewise. The cost of an annual subscription for a student is minuscule in terms of overall educational funding. The benefit can be a better-informed citizen. Something America can surely benefit from in these days of “Fake News.”

This will be my final column for The Pilot. I wish the paper and its staff continued success in its endeavors to keep our community well-informed. I may send in a letter to the editor from time to time just to keep my oar in.

Paul R. Dunn is the author of “The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln.” He can be reached at paulandbj@nc.rr.com.

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(2) comments

Conrad Meyer

Paul, I really enjoyed your columns that were golf related. Never liked it when you decided to go political, mostly because we disagree (much of this column included).

Most people who leave a job thank those that deserve thanks, and they also talk about the positive going forward. You didn't do either.

William Dean

Newspapers need to represent the readers better. In the Pilot we do not find hard news but puff pieces that placate the local gentry. The Pilot ignores parts of the county to concentrate on just Pinehurst, So Pines and Aberdeen. You need to send your reporters into other parts of the county and do real research and reporting. It has long been known in the county that Pinehurst hides it's crimes so as not to scare off visitors. The lack of enforcement of many laws makes people why they are paying for services they are not getting.

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