They’re dubbed “news deserts” and denote a community that lacks any type of independent news sources such as a daily or weekly newspaper.

There are more than a 1,000 such places across the U.S. and their proliferation is a situation that worries me.

In our region, we are fortunate. We don’t have to deal with such a circumstance. We are fortunate in another way, too. EO Media Group, our parent company, remains dedicated to the small communities of Eastern Oregon. We want, and try to deliver, high-quality news products to our readers on a regular basis.

News deserts trouble me because they represent areas where an important support beam of democracy no longer exists. That means there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of voters who do not have access to important information. Information they can use to decide how, and when, they participate in our democracy.

Newspapers mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. They exist as a public forum and as a small business. A good newspaper is constantly balancing those two — at times competing — goals. Yet, always the focus is on the reader and on the hard work of giving readers the type of information they need. That “need” can be as simple as a notice of meeting of clubs or city councils or as important as giving voters critical background information about a potential candidate for political office.

Each of those news deserts reflect a failure in democracy and that should worry anyone who cares about the future of this nation. When the public does not have the information necessary to participate in a democracy, all of us lose.

Information is more important now than at probably any other time in our history. That’s because there is a plethora of information from hundreds of different sources that often can’t be fact checked.

A good newspaper has the ability to fact check information. To seek independent sources about a specific assertion and then to present what it discovered to the reader. Then, it is up to the read to decide.

Of course, that isn’t what many critics and naysayers preach. The “media” is evil and full of misinformation or outright lies. Those types of assertions always irritate me because they’re not necessarily true but are often taken at face value.

I can assure you along with myself, our reporters work hard to get it right. We don’t have an “agenda.” Our focus is on the reader, first and always.

If we get something wrong we print a correction and take responsibility. We don’t hide from mistakes. We admit them and move on.

News deserts are disturbing, but I am glad Eastern Oregon does not face such a situation. We will continue to provide the most accurate in-depth coverage we can for as long as we can.

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Andrew Cutler is the publisher of the Hermiston Herald and the regional editorial director for the EO Media Group, overseeing the East Oregonian, Hermiston Herald and four more newspapers in Eastern Oregon.

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