Last week, The Sapulpa Daily Herald, of Supulpa, OK (pop. 19,166), failed to write a single article noting that Barack Obama had won the US Presidential Election. Apropos of nothing, Sapulpa also bills itself as "the most connected city in Oklahoma." Defending his decision, Daily Herald editor Darren Sumner had this to say:
"Our main focus is to be a local newspaper."
While I'm sure any number of arguments could be advanced on why a presidential election is, in fact, an issue of intense local interest for the residents of Sapulpa, this story interests me for another reason. And that's the perverse authority of small town newspaper editors.
The New York Times, Washington Post and other major newspapers must cover the election. If they don't, readers will abandon them for close competitors and their journalistic reputations will be destroyed. Given a big enough story, major papers have no choice but to cover it. The Sapulpa Daily Herald has no such problem. With a tiny circulation in a market largely ignored by larger papers, they can publish whatever they want with little consequence. Ironically, Darren Sumner probably has more autonomy than the entire editorial team of the NYT.
This would have been farily problematic 70 years ago. A particularly capricious editor, or in this case, a disappointed McCainite could effectively keep his readers in the dark about important events. Even 30 or 40 years ago, many of his readers, or at least the ones with low media consumption, could still be bamboozled. But now, in a multi-channel, Internet-saturated world, you'd have to live in a cave to not know Obama won, regardless of what your local paper said (or didn't say).
Sumner himself recognizes this new information order:
"I'm sure they read about it (the election) and watched it on T.V.; or got on the Internet and followed it as many people did and knew complete coverage before we were gonna go to press."
Indeed. I'm not sure this abrogates the Daily Herald from its community responsibilities, but it is hard to argue readers were ill-served.
So there you go. The information age in microcosm. With so much data streaming out across the globe, it is very difficult for one person or group to control what people know. Comforting.