by Mark Thomas - Executive Vice President Oklahoma Press Association

There's an old saying that you don't really appreciate something until you don't have it anymore. We all know that to be true in our personal life with each loss of a lifelong friend or family member. It's no secret many newspapers in the United States have closed in recent years. Every time it happens it feels like losing a lifelong friend or family member.

There are 165 Oklahoma communities that enjoy the benefits of having a hometown newspaper. Oklahoma Newspaper Week is October 1-7, and I hope you will take a moment to appreciate your local newspaper.

People take it for granted the paper will always be there, covering local news, events and people. Studies show that when a local newspaper closes, taxes creep up, corruption sneaks in and voters are less informed. However, running a hometown newspaper isn't always about taxes, crime, politics or being a watchdog. It's about people.

Everyone has their own personal interests. Some care about sports and school activities, including homecoming, marching bands and rivalry games. Others care about Senior Day, FFA, 4-H and county fair results. Maybe you love hunting and fishing or rodeos and revival meetings.

Maybe you're a Rotarian, Lion, Jaycee or Kiwanian. Who doesn't love a pancake breakfast, spaghetti supper or community service project? Community celebrations only happen with dedication and recognition of volunteers who organize Christmas parades, Easter egg hunts and July fireworks. Every town has a special celebration touting a unique feature of the community.

Who cares about all these things? The local newspaper. They have always been there to cover community history, events and people. In the modern world readers enjoy newspaper content on multiple platforms, both in print, mobile and online. Without a doubt, local newspapers are the leaders in local news coverage.

It is often said a newspaper is a reflection of the community it serves. Sometimes we like what we see, sometimes we don't. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes it's not. Great communities and newspapers know the only way to improve is to take an honest look in the mirror, recognize and respect different points of view, and work together to improve our quality of life.

If you think social media is the answer or an alternative to a local newspaper, think again. Social media is helpful to quickly spread breaking news, and used properly it can be beneficial. The irony of social media is it can be one of the most anti-social things we do, tearing apart relationships and communities with a few keystrokes.

Some people suggest all news should be free. We should all remember there is a cost when something is free. Free kittens aren't free. Think twice before accepting a free horse or boat. Freedom isn't even free. Ask any veteran or their family.

A local newspaper is a business that must be supported by its own community. Like any business, income must exceed expenses. That means other businesses in town must advertise and be ready to help support special promotions or events that help the community.

People must subscribe and tell their friends to subscribe. If you think the subscription price is too high, look at an entire year's worth of news coverage and add it up. You'll start to realize your subscription is more than worth it.

The reality is that if local businesses, the chamber of commerce, city government, school, and citizens in the community don't want a local paper, they won't have one. A local paper can only be published if the community is willing to pay for it.

There are people who would be thrilled to see the local paper disappear. They no longer worry about showing up on the front page when they do wrong. They want you to think nobody reads the paper. You're proving them wrong right now.

Publishing a local paper comes with a multitude of joys and sorrows. The old joke is half the town is mad every week and the trick is to figure out which half. Straddling that fence can make you feel like a monkey on barbed wire.

Please take a moment this week to thank an employee of your local paper for their effort. If you work at a local paper you must know how government works and how the community plays. You must stand up and ask questions when everyone in town is wondering what's going on. You must accept criticism, admit when you're wrong and publicly correct mistakes. Most importantly, you must believe the community can be a better place tomorrow than it is today and have the vision to work with others who support making that dream a reality.

I have lived in several Oklahoma small towns and have a love for those communities. We all know the tightknit nature of small towns and how important they are to Oklahoma.

Recently I went to the Oklahoma Historical Society to read hometown newspapers from my youth. It was fun to read and remember those days until I was hit with a historical reality. The local publisher unexpectedly died, and nobody was willing to continue the paper. My joy turned to sorrow.

Community history was no longer being recorded. No coverage of the high school sports victories or friends enlisted in military service. No obituaries appeared. No reports of homecoming events or pictures of our kids. Service club efforts went unheralded. Anniversaries and celebrations passed without mention. Local achievements were no longer saved for posterity. How sad.

You don't really appreciate things until you don't have them anymore. During Oklahoma Newspaper Week, think about the value of having your own local newspaper. It's worth more than you know.

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