In recent months city newspapers have been tanking left and right.
It seems like the biggest publications are barely hanging on in these times of economic uncertainty, and some of them are just plain going broke.
In fact, I have read several stories from some of the larger news organizations about the dismal hope of future monetary gains for newsprint even after the current recession is over.
On any given day I can see thousands of students on The University of Tennessee campus 'plugged in' to headphones and iPods and cell phones.
The big attraction at the libraries on campus is the computer labs and commons areas filled with computers.
Classrooms are filled with students barely able to see the professors over the tops of their laptop screens. Internet and small-screen media, at least for young people, is undoubtedly the new norm.
It is rare to see a newspaper actually being read on campus, especially one that isn't a student publication.
But small town newspapers are a different thing altogether.
I grew up in LaFollette and I make it a habit to visit every weekend.
This is home, and whenever I come home, I always hear the question, “Did you get the Press this week?” or “Did you see so-and-so in the paper?”
At times it is something akin to shock to realize the importance of the local weekly newspaper after having spent the rest of the week “connected” to everything else.
I mean, basically every electronic device with a screen between my place and the university is connected to the Internet.
Yes, I work at The Press -as an intern; but I am unpaid and have no fiscal incentive to say this - a local paper breeds community.
Where else can I see my kid-brother's birthday announcement and have that beautiful moment displayed for everyone in my family?
What would our refrigerators look like without cutouts of local sports games, 4-H pictures and wedding announcements from the paper?
The Internet excels at connecting a single user to millions of other single users all over the planet, but a local paper provides the common knowledge base that keeps every single member, family and group in a small town connected to one another.
Big city papers just cannot do that, and maybe that is the reason they are struggling.