Not everyone reads the New York Times. Some people skip the San Francisco Chronicle, don't listen to National Public Radio and are too busy putting their kids to bed to watch the network or cable news. They get their news from their local newspaper.
What a nice world those people lived in last week. In that world, the Green Diamond timber company agreed to sell the Yurok Tribe property to help them enlarge their land base. The Coastal Conservancy decided to put money into our rail-trail efforts. Glen and Mary Hubner found an albino Stellar's Jay in their Ferndale yard. And Arnold said not to text message while you drive, if you know what's good for you.
I lived in a scarier world. I woke up Friday to find the sky falling: The U.S. government seized Washington Mutual in the largest bank failure in U.S. history, even as it tried to work out a $700 billion bailout scheme to prop up the rest of Wall Street's dominoes. In layman's language: Financial Armageddon! You think I'm exaggerating? Here's the lead you missed on another story on the Times' front page last Friday:
"The day began with an agreement that Washington hoped would end the financial crisis that has gripped the nation. It dissolved into a verbal brawl in the Cabinet Room of the White House, warnings from an angry president and pleas from a Treasury secretary who knelt before the House speaker and appealed for her support."
When Henry Paulson kneels in front of Nancy Pelosi and it isn't to ask her hand in marriage you might want to start paying attention to national news. And when the government tells you that it needs to bail out Wall Street (the guys that have been making mucho $$$ for the past decade while most people struggled to make ends meet) to the tune of $700 billion, you might want to make sure your savings is tucked under your mattress. I'll do the math for you: That's just about $2,300 for every man, woman and child in this country. So if you are married with three kids, your share is almost $12,000. That's money the government said it wanted to hand to a bunch of suits who put some really big money on some really bad bets.
Because newspaper publishers realize that the Internet is turning their product into an anachronism, they chant Local, Local, Local. Why compete with the Internet on national and international news? Instead focus on what only you, as a local newspaper, can produce that your readers want and need.
But not when All Hell Breaks Loose! The biggest bank failure in U.S. history is arguably the biggest story since 9/11. And considering that it comes on top of a total implosion of 100-year-old white shoe investment banks which were the keepers of our pension and retirement accounts, it is imperative for every newspaper to help readers understand the dire implications of this travesty. It is particularly important for a local newspaper in an isolated region 3,000 miles from the U.S. Capitol to make readers understand how the government's response, or lack thereof, will affect them.
Oh wait, the Times-Standard did have a story on the banking crisis. You could find a teaser for it in a little box at the bottom of the front page sandwiched between the small weather graphic (partly cloudy) and the ad for Cloney's Good Neighbor Pharmacy. It read: Business: B4 U.S. Bailout Effort Stalls. It didn't even make the first page of the business section. It failed to tell readers about Washington Mutual, which I will argue is a local story since local people bank there. And the entire business section was buried behind the Arts section. That means that the Times-Standard deemed the movies and the night's TV lineup more important than the banking crisis.
That the Times-Standard missed the boat on this humongous story became clear on Sunday when the paper finally ran a story on the Washington Mutual takeover. It turned out that on Friday, while I was busy turning pages looking for the story, people were rushing over to WaMu's Eureka branch in a panic. They filled the parking lot and some withdrew every dollar they had deposited there, despite FDIC guarantees.
Perhaps some wouldn't have panicked as much, had there been a story on the safety of those deposits and on what FDIC insurance protects. That's why people subscribe to a local paper.
At least the Times-Standard had a story on the banking crisis. If you relied on the Eureka Reporter (and since it is free, there are people who rely on it) you live in an even rosier world.
So editors: Please don't make people in Humboldt County buy two newspapers just to get a handle on what's happening in the world around them. Save the story on the albino jay for another day. Right now there are people out there so worried about losing their homes they are afraid to step outside. It is your responsibility to give them information that can help them get through this crisis and the ones that will hit us in the future.
And readers: Please register to vote. The deadline in California is Oct. 20.