OPINION: ZACHARY: Preserving the first draft of history

May 21—Newspapers have often been called the first draft of history.

It is an apt moniker.

Newspapers create a public record of the daily lives of ordinary women, men and children while accurately reporting on the activities of local government.

Historians and genealogists have long relied on community newspapers for their research.

Newspaper archives can be used to trace family lineage, property ownership and other relevant facts from the past that might otherwise go unrecorded.

Perhaps it is not something we often think about, but when we lose a community newspaper we lose a piece of ourselves. We lose a large part of our history.

Perhaps we take newspapers for granted simply because the local paper has always been a part of our lives.

We know we can read about what is going on in our community in the local paper.

We find out what city and county government or, sometimes more importantly, the board of education is up to by reading it in the newspaper.

We probably just take it for granted that the local newspaper holds the powerful accountable, defends the First Amendment, protects the public's right to know and advocates for free speech.

But if the local newspaper wasn't doing those things who would be? Most likely, no one.

Where would we find coverage of the local sports scene were it not for the newspaper? If we want to know what to expect from the opposing team at Friday night's high school football game, we know that each week we can read a game preview or get analysis from last week's game in the sports section of the newspaper.

Children and their parents can't hardly wait until the honor rolls are published so they can cut the page out of the paper and paste it in a scrapbook. Of course, when newspapers disappear that part of childhood is gone forever.

Think about some of the other things the newspaper covers, things like school plays, musicals, 4-H events, academic competitions, debate team victories and all the other great things happening throughout the year.

Of course some readers go straight to the obituary page when they get each edition of the paper and that is certainly understandable. It is so very interesting to read about people's lives, their families, the places they lived and the things they accomplished.

When there is a local election, the newspaper is how you find out who is running for office and learn a little bit about each candidate, what they stand for, how they answer difficult questions and what we might expect if that person is elected to office. But, once again, what if there was no local newspaper?

Where else would you check out the food scores that measure the cleanliness of the restaurant before you decide where you are going to eat?

Then, there are the advertisements, which stores have sales promotions? Where can you get the best deals? As long as there is a local newspaper, you can just check out the ads in the paper.

Granted, you may not agree with everything you read in the paper. That's OK. None of us agree with everything we hear people say or see people do in our daily lives but we still love being a part of our community.

Newspapers also tell us the great stories of the women, men and children who call this great place home. The newspaper makes us feel, causes us to think and in so many ways enriches our lives by keeping us informed.

Like everything, the newspaper may cost us a little more than it used to but it is still an incredible value when you think about just how much local news and information it gives you access to with each edition in print and each day online.

Every now and then a generous reader will send a donation to the paper, sometimes with a note just saying something like "thank you for keeping us informed."

The newspaper doesn't ask for donations.

But, if you can't imagine our community without a local newspaper, please consider subscribing because that is exactly what it takes to keep newspapers — the first draft of our history — in our lives for years to come.

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director or newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.