After 104 years of operation, The Bolivar Commercial newspaper made its last delivery on April 29.

The Cleveland-based newspaper covered news in Bolivar and Sunflower counties over in the Delta, with an estimated circulation near 6,000. The epitome of a small-town newspaper, its decline marks the economic conditions of its environment. Every small-town newspaper can be examined as such a barometer.

Newspapers depend largely on advertising revenue. The increasingly digital content landscape has interrupted that relationship. The 2008 recession really put the hurt on advertising dollars. For The Bolivar Commercial, it took one of its biggest advertisers – a local General Motors dealership. The government bailout of GM demanded the company close hundreds of its franchise dealerships, including the one in Cleveland.

To boot, the population in The Bolivar Commercial’s footprint has declined significantly (15 percent since 2000), all this among poverty rates over 25 percent.

Working at a newspaper is a lot like that time you forgot to do a big school project until the day before it was due – every day, and the whole readership is grading you. It takes a whole team of a certain kind of person to make that happen. It takes a diligent, stalwart, faithful people, like the staff of The Bolivar Commercial. Between them, the paper’s staff of 10 people marked a combined 222 years of working at that paper. The paper’s publisher, Diane Makamson, started her 42-year tenure at the paper as a bookkeeper.

“What good is a local newspaper?” you might say.

Journalism, in its creation and in its consumption, is about accountability. Local newspapers live that mission out to the fullest. They ask tough questions of the officials who have the most influence on our lives – how our city evolves, how our tax dollars are spent, how our children are cared for and educated. What’s done in the dark, they bring to the light, often at a fair amount of personal and professional risk.

Readers can hold journalists accountable, too. If you disagree or find error in some Washington Post story, the odds are low that the reporter will ever hear your complaint. However, if I get something wrong, you can bend my ear at Kroger or write your own letter to the editor.

Though internet content may be free, and it may be more to your liking, there is far less accountability. As I’ve written here before, an online article with no date, no byline, is a red flag. Even if you find the author, they might not be who they say they are, and there’s likely no way to find out who’s paying them. It’s highly likely that all they wanted from you was a click, anyway.

RILEY MANNING is a fiction writer, former religion reporter for the Daily Journal, and a copywriter at Mabus Agency. Readers can contact him at rileymanning19@gmail.com.

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