Last week, I attended the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Each year according to their publication, 300 of the best columnist from across the country come together to talk about the science and art of sharing news and information. Before you get the impression that I am including myself among the 300 best in the country I want you to know that anyone with $250 could attend.

I had the privilege of meeting some celebrated writers from around the country including Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd, Brian McGrory, Editor-in-Chief of the Boston Globe, Jill Lawrence, Editorial Page Editor of USA Today, and Scott Spradling, Emmy Award-winning reporter, anchor, and political commentator often seen on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and Ted Koppel. The winner of this year’s coveted Will Rogers Humanitarian Award was Suzzette Standling, a syndicated columnist from Milton, Massachusetts. My assessment of the members of the NSNC is that they are a down-to-earth group of highly skilled professionals.

It wasn’t a surprise that the general consensus of the group is that the Internet has caused a major earthquake in the newspaper business. Today, many opt to read their news online and that cuts into the financial bottom line of the newspaper business. On-line readers lose the “flop-over” opportunities provided by actually holding your newspaper in your hand and letting your eyes “flop-over” to an article you never would have anticipated had you been searching online for what you want to read. A significant value of the newspaper is that it provides information to which we would not, otherwise, be exposed.

All across the country newspapers have attempted to deal with the financial short-fall by changing the format of the newspapers to save space or by consolidating with other newspapers and creating a “central” printing source. Consolidations create another concern of which most would not be aware. As more and more smaller newspapers face a declining bottom line financially, those newspapers are being bought up by larger and stronger organizations. That means that, potentially, the editorial policies of local newspapers are in the hands of a smaller and smaller group of people. One of the strengths of the newspaper in previous years has been its independence and ability to view local and national issues from a variety of different viewpoints. More consolidations mean, potentially, fewer independent viewpoints. That can’t be good.

One of the major problems of small city newspapers is how to balance local and national news coverage. That is especially true in those areas away from the big cities. With a mobile population some newspaper readers have moved to their present locations from far-away places and enjoy reading about national happenings. Others look for local news and turn first to the hometowner section.

If I brought nothing else home from my sojourn to the National Society of Newspaper Column Writer’s Conference, I can tell you that change in the newspaper business is on-going. We have seen much change in recent years and it continues to accelerate.

If you get the bulk of your news from TV, you have the headlines but little else. If you drive with the radio on, you generally get lots of commentary but little content. The local newspaper continues to be the primary source of news and information all across the country. It is the tie that binds, the catalyst, and often the motivator to get people involved in important things that affect everyday life in these United States.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”

Three days at the national conference gave me a new appreciation for our local newspapers and for those charged with the overwhelming responsibility to bring it to us 365 days each year. Folks, we are both privileged and spoiled.

— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states. Books by Hopkins currently available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble include “Journey to Gettysburg” and “The Wounds of War,” both Civil War-era novels, and “The World As It Was When Jesus Came.” Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.