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All Points West: Newspapers still hold value
May 19, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Today, May 20, the Gering Citizen marks its seventh year. We take this moment to thank you, our readers, for seeing value in us. We continue to proudly serve you.

Speaking of value in newspapers, and our duty to preserve freedom of speech ... In April this past year, Stars and Stripes, the Department of Defenseís only daily newspaper with both its Pacific and European editions, was in danger of losing funding to continue its operations, a mere $12 million a year Ė a tiny drop in the bucket compared with the rest of defense spending. I had to admit, it riled a few of my Stripes buddies. We are now scattered to the four winds, but we had worked together in Tokyo at the headquarters for Pacific Stars and Stripes in the early 1990s. Sure, times are tough, and apparently our government is busy trying to identify fat. Fortunately, in the last week of April, the House Armed Services Committee added a measure to its budget, protecting Stars and Stripes, for which I breathed a sigh of relief.

First, Stripes has the widest circulation of any newspaper in the world. It is delivered to remote locations, not only in southeast Asia, and pockets of Europe, but it also reaches the front steps of the Pentagon, and other power centers across the United States. It is delivered to the troops who continue to serve in war-torn regions such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, parts of Africa, and anywhere our military is deployed. The newspaper is sometimes the only source for news, despite the proliferation and widespread use of the Internet. Sometimes, power fails, and the only thing that gives service members a window to home is THAT newspaper.

The value of this newspaper is far more than the $12 million a year to keep it afloat. As Stripesí Opinion Page editor for a few months, I would open letters from service members thanking us for doing our job, delivering stories from back home, and producing the homegrown stories, being ignored by giant media or big city newspapers, and the AP and UPI wire services. Our reporters at bureaus in Guam, the Philippines, Korea, and across Japan, did their best to tell the service memberís story, in the tradition of war correspondent and Ernie Pyle, of WWII fame.

Pyle began his career in 1935, a Dana, Indiana, native born on August 3, 1900. He was admired, and is still to this day, by military journalists such as myself for his folksy style Ė his way of connecting with the dog faces stuck in the trenches. Pyle, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, was killed in battle in April 1945, on Legima, a small island northwest of Okinawa.

Following in the tradition of military reporting, though not in a hedgerow or trench, but still at some risk, in 1993, Pacific Stripes reporter, then Army Sgt. Rick Rogers broke the story about Airman Apprentice Terry M. Helvey, 20, who was charged with murder in the death of Allen R. Schindler, a radioman who had been serving with Helvey on the helicopter assault ship the U.S.S. Belleau Wood. Schindler, according to the story had been a target because he was gay.

According to Rogers, the Navyís 7th Fleet issued a press release saying a sailor died at Sasebo Naval Base, but offered no details. Rogers was the Japan bureau reporter, and because his colleague was otherwise engaged, the follow-up fell to him. The only thing the Navy Public Affairs Officer told Rogers was the death was not a suicide or a drug overdose and that the matter was under investigation. A few days later, a guy who worked at the theme park Huis Ten Bosch, located near the base, sent Stripes a letter saying Schindler was killed for being gay.

This was a hot topic because of the U.S. policy on being openly gay in the military was criticized. The fear was that there would be more frequent attacks on gays, regardless of the Donít Ask, Donít Tell policy. Rogers was military, a fellow soldier. There were several attempts to block his path, and to silence his sources. Some Navy officials saw this as another black eye, and didnít want a kindred spirit such as Rogers, albeit Rick was Army, writing the story. In their eyes, he was spilling the beans. They saw it as betrayal.

Rogers made a major contribution, allowing civilian reporters in the door. The Navy had their reasons to oppose the story; It was still trying to live down the Tailhook scandal from the previous two years. Tailhook was a series of incidents where more than a hundred Navy and Marine aviators were alleged to have sexually assaulted 83 women and seven men at the Las Vegas Hilton, at the 35th Tailhook Association Symposium in September 1991. Stars and Stripes closely followed that story, too.

Somewhat related is the question of whether or not civilian newspapers can survive in a digital age, or are we, like Stripes, having to justify our existence? An even better question is who decides what stories go on the front page of newspapers. Could conglomerate owners compromise our ethics? If it bleeds, it leads, can leave us in an alarming state of shock, or desensitized to a point of not caring.

In the mild and sometimes pushy manner of Pyle and Rogers, genuine reporting must be kept alive, if for no other reason to keep a thumb on the pulse of America. These days, because of the Internet, anyone (not formally trained) can produce a blog or launch a website to espouse all manner of tripe or whimsical notions.

Caution: This type of sentiment floated around in the old days.

There was a saying: ďI read it in the paper, so it must be true.Ē Now, it easily applies to the Internet. Are we at risk of not knowing what to believe? More importantly, are we being misinformed? If youíre the slightest bit concerned, regular mainstream, mom-and-pop newspapers like the Citizen always invite you to write a letter to the editor.

Newspapers, and the media in general, continue to serve as whistleblowers, holding big companies and corrupt government accountable. They entertain us, and give us hope and remind us the world has value. Killing Stripes Ė the nationís largest hometown newspaper Ė would have been a travesty, and a major block to the flow of valuable information to one of our most important communities, our military.

The Gering Citizen is independently owned and family run with deep roots in this small town. Our mission, much like that of our military, is to provide something which gives you, our reader, something to hold in your hand. The heartfelt stories are about you, your neighbors, and your community.

As Rogers put it, local journalism is really the only kind anyone reads these days. Iíll add, the only stories worth reading.

Therefore, Happy Birthday to us.
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