Asking why is a good place to start

Normally, I would use this space to share my opinions with readers. That’s what newspaper columnists do: They give their opinions, the facts behind those views, and hope to educate, enlighten or at least entertain readers.

But this week is different. I want to hear readers’ opinions. Actually, I need to hear from the Sentinel’s non-readers, which makes this column particularly difficult. I am writing this for people who won’t see it. Their choice, of course, but I want to understand why many people don’t read newspapers, the Sentinel in particular.

Newspapers are going out of business across the country. Readership is down. Facebook and other social media are partly the cause — they offer free or low-cost access for advertising and what may or may not be honest news. But it’s entertaining, no question about that. And sometimes informative and useful.

Part of the blame rests with newspaper owners, particularly out-of-town corporations. After years of cutting back on their staff and covering less news, it’s no wonder that an increasing number of people decided it just wasn’t worth the price of a subscription.

Responsible newspaper owners and editors nationwide talk about the importance of local news to communities. We believe the public needs to know what is happening at city halls, state capitals, school districts and other public agencies. An informed public is more engaged in local decisions and makes better choices at the ballot box, whether among candidates or bond issues for repairs to public buildings.

But a friend who recently retired from teaching journalism pointed out something that I had not really considered: Maybe people don’t read newspapers because the news and local government just isn’t all that important to them. They have enough other things going on in their lives that the workings of city hall, the local chamber of commerce and school district budget sessions just don’t matter.

It’s nothing against the newspaper, it’s that they don’t really care all that much about what’s in the paper.

Which prompted me to write this column.

I have attended (in person or by Zoom) several public meetings in Wrangell where it was clear that some of the officials and attendees had never read the news stories in the Sentinel about the very issues under discussion at the meeting.

That’s OK, and I’m not offended. People are busy, have their own priorities for how they spend their time, and certainly can get their news from other sources.

But if the Sentinel is to do as good a job as it can at providing Wrangell with helpful and interesting news, we need to know why some of it goes unread; what are we missing; why do some people in town just not think it’s all that important to read the news. Again, it’s not personal, I’m just trying to figure out why and what we could do differently.

Here’s the tough part. Obviously, someone who does not read the paper will not see this column. But for you who do read it, think of others you know, think about why hundreds of people in town don’t see it as all that useful to pick up and read the paper. Then share your thoughts and relay your ideas to me.

Sure, you could write a letter to the editor for publication in the Sentinel, but I know most people don’t like doing that. No need to put pen to paper or keystrokes to paper — just call or email me at 907-351-8276 or

I look forward to learning.


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