If the school district in a small town shut down and children had to be transported elsewhere to get an education, it would have a devastating effect on families. The same would be true if all the clothing stores shut down, and residents were forced to drive to a neighboring city or order from an online catalog.

What if there were no locally owned restaurants, but only outlets for fast food chains? No place to buy tires, or to get the oil changed? No accountants to prepare taxes, and no attorneys to help write wills or defend folks who run afoul of the law? Nowhere to get a cup of coffee, check out a good book, or buy a baby bed for a grandchild?

Any of these losses would erode a sense of community – a shared identity among those who call that place home, and who hope their children and grandchildren will stick around. If residents can't get the essentials from businesses, institutions and organizations that are supposed to serve their basic needs, it won't be long before the community dies on the vine. It might still exist, and people might still live there. But they'll be commuting to jobs elsewhere, and the vibrant, can-do attitude that acts as a glue holding everything together will evaporate.

A community newspaper is no less important than any of these other entities. In some ways, it's even more critical. While a dress can be bought online from Macy's, a movie viewed at a theater within an hour's drive, and groceries can be picked up from the nearest "big box" store, a newspaper's role can't be filled by anything else but another newspaper. CNN, FOX, broadcast affiliates and the nearest metropolitan newspapers just don't cover local news. And social media? Forget about it, unless unsubstantiated rumors, biased snippets and opinionated screeds pass as "news."

For the past week, journalists and those who understand their vital role have been honoring National Newspaper Week. This year's theme is "Community Forum" – and that's how small newspapers should be viewed. The paper is the hub of information for a community – a one-stop shop for crime news, feature stories, high school football game coverage, club reports, church announcements, and everything else that makes small-town America so special.

Hometown newspapers serve their communities with pride and determination. They are held to high standards that social media outlets don't understand, or don't bother to consider. They cover meetings of boards of education, city councils, county commissions and trust authorities. They immerse themselves in courts and crime news so the public will know who has gone wrong, and who has turned to the straight and narrow. Most importantly, as watchdogs, they hold to the fire the feet of elected officials and those appointed to cushy berths they'd like to keep permanently, without answering to the public.

Without newspapers, there would be no one to hold the powers-that-be accountable – and that's exactly as the powerful want it. When someone repeatedly calls the media "the enemy of the people" and lumps them all into that same sorry category, it's a sure bet the detractor doesn't want the scrutiny with which "the press" was charged by no less than the Framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Everyone likes to lambaste the hometown newspaper, but the critics should ask themselves what their communities would be like without them. The answer is unthinkable. That's why it's so important that people support hometown newspapers, just as they do other local businesses. Without that support, newspapers can't survive – and if they go away, so will the communities that relied on them for the service no one else can provide.

TDP humbly asks for the continued support of Cherokee County and its residents – and in return, we pledge to do the job we were called to do.

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