By Ramona Ferguson
President, Texas Press Association

Only we can tell our local readers how many ventilators our local hospital has, or how many testing kits our local authorities have access to. People seek local news during national and international disasters because they want to know how it will impact them, and because they know us. They know our reporters, publishers and ad sales people. We go to PTA, church and Lions Club with them, and they know they can trust what they read within our pages or on our websites.

The second part is what we owe our readers during a time like this. Only we can serve as the community watchdog to make sure authorities respond properly. We owe our neighbors an unvarnished assessment of what is going on on the ground right here at home. Only we have the local knowledge to let our communities know what is happening day to day concerning covid-19. Are our nursing homes seeing high infection rates? Are our neighbors receiving their stimulus checks? What are our legislators and members of Congress doing to affect the lives of our readers? We must work our Rolodexes or cellphone contact lists like never before to get facts to our communities.

Regardless of what’s happening at higher levels of government, every locality is impacted differently and is handling this pandemic differently. We owe our readers the who, what, when, where, why and how of that impact — both to our health and to our economy. And when appropriate, we must use our opinion pages to praise or to call out local leaders according to how well they’ve responded to the crisis.

Ramona Ferguson
We are the only ones that can provide service like this. Television news can’t do it for every community covered by their broadcasts. Only local newspapers can. I challenge each one of you to realize — and to remind readers — that this pandemic can have a bright side for us and our communities: it is a chance for local newspapers and our communities to reconnect with each other.

Hold a Facebook Live virtual town hall with local officials, and take questions from your readers. Put your staff in front of the camera, and let them answer questions based on the knowledge they’ve gained from their stories. Use other platforms to reach those audiences who have become disconnected with the print pages, and push them back toward our websites and print editions. Be the leader for providing accurate, local information to your communities.

As difficult a time as this is, it can serve as a renaissance for local news in Texas and around the country. For almost 200 years, Texas newspapers have served their communities and their state with distinction. Along the way our predecessors covered the local effects of a revolution, statehood, a civil war, Reconstruction, the Great Depression, epidemics, droughts, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes and wars halfway around the world. Texas newspapers have been there for all of it, chronicling the joys and the sorrows of life and suffering and celebrating alongside their readers as the stories unfolded. Texas newspapers have endured. And with hard work and God’s help, they will endure covid-19 as well.

Stay safe and well, and above all, take this opportunity to connect with YOUR community.

Ramona Ferguson is publisher of The Banner Press in Columbus, Texas. She wrote this for the Texas Press Messenger, the newspaper of the Texas Press Association, of which she is president.