Businesses and individuals are confused. They want to know what they should do as Idaho and local governments loosen restrictions intended to control the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Those governments could clear up the confusion by publishing health orders and guidelines in newspapers, which are carrying the load of keeping residents informed as the pandemic continues to unfold.
Instead, local elected officials have opted to do what Gov. Brad Little recommended: post orders on state web sites and on doors of closed county and city offices and provide a copy if someone requests it. It isn’t enough, it isn’t effective and it won’t get any more effective going forward.
Who in the world, with the exception of newspaper reporters and a handful of attorneys, wakes up every morning and decides to read a government web site? Who really thinks that Facebook produces news?
Who wants to dig through multiple government web sites to try to figure out what they can and can’t do under state and local health orders? Unlike newspapers, most of the web sites are poorly organized, difficult to navigate and sporadically updated.
Who gets up in the morning during a pandemic, has a cup of coffee and says, “Guess I better go visit the door of the courthouse and find out if I can go to work today?” No one.
Instead, they go to trusted sources of information: local newspapers.
The state’s decision to publish orders only on a government web site—good luck figuring out which one—is a cheap-out, a slap in the face to Idaho’s hardy newspapers that are hemorrhaging red ink yet continue to publish because they are devoted to the people in their communities.
The Idaho Mountain Express and its newspaper colleagues have made coronavirus information available to hundreds of thousands of readers. We have reported on threats posed by the virus, how people can fight the virus, what to do if they become ill and how to care for sick family members.
Newspapers can do this because their reach extends far beyond the reach of any government entity. Their reach is massive because facts of all kinds intersect in newspapers. Every hour of the workday, newspaper reporters dig deep, bring facts together and present them in the context of everyday life. Governments can’t and don’t do that.
Idaho wisely allowed newspapers to remain open by designating them as essential businesses at the start of the pandemic. Yet, it and local governments that have issued emergency orders are failing the public by not publishing orders and health information in newspapers.
Newspapers are the foundation of news in America. Their reporters are not pretty faces in front of cameras, but dedicated researchers whose desks and computers are piled high with dry reports and whose cell phones get too hot to hold in times like these.
Newspapers, not government web sites, are the places people turn to for news in a crisis. State and local government officials shouldn’t keep the public in the dark to avoid spending money in newspapers.
Otherwise, it’s likely that Idahoans and government officials will wake up one day after newspapers close and say, “Guess we didn’t know what we had until they were gone.”