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Point of View: Newspapers are "essential services"

Dean Ridings
Dean Ridings

California’s governor has issued a “shelter-in-place” order directing everyone to basically stay inside their homes indefinitely in hopes of suppressing the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the region.

It looks like many of us are going to be living under similar shelter-in-place orders sooner or later. Bedroom community New Rochelle, New York, has a “zone of containment,” and at this writing, New York City’s mayor is considering an order sending everyone inside.

One key to shelter-in-place orders is that businesses that don’t provide “essential” services must send workers home. Most coverage lists the essential services as grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and vital services from police and fire fighters to utility workers.

In California, newspapers are among the essential services exempt from shelter in place. That is exactly how it should be.

It’s imperative that shelter-in-place orders recognize that newspapers provide “essential services.” It’s imperative that these orders recognize their communities badly need those services in this crisis — and would be imperiled by their absence.

Day in and day out, newspapers bind communities, enhancing civic life and informing, entertaining and educating their local audiences.

But it is during crises that newspaper prove their mettle. In hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires, newspapers have provided the information, the background, the warnings and the directions to financial and psychological aid that help communities prepare, survive and rebuild in emergencies.

Newspapers are especially essential in this COVID-19 public health crisis.

For one thing, it’s a complex and often baffling crisis. Again and again, public health experts speak of being in “unchartered territory.”

Newspapers are uniquely situated to provide the extensive background people need to understand as a community and as individuals. Newspapers (in print and online) continue to demonstrate their ability to tackle and explain complex issues with the necessary and important details.

Newspapers also have been a voice demanding accountability on behalf of their communities during this COVID-19 crisis.

And when this crisis passes and America begins to rebuild its economy, its trust and its health, newspapers will continue to provide the essential services vital to the commonweal.

Are newspapers “essential services”? You bet.

Ridings is CEO of America’s Newspapers (www.newspapers.org).

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