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Try to imagine a world without news

My most vivid memory of 20 years at the Mail Tribune sticks in the minds of every American who started that day with no idea life was about to change.

Sept. 11, 2001.

I woke up to NPR’s breaking news report that “two planes have hit both towers of the World Trade Center ” and hurried to the office. Editors and reporters huddled in the newsroom, brainstorming what stories we could develop to help readers make sense of this terrifying tragedy. We would reach out to local residents worried sick about loved ones in Manhattan, schoolteachers struggling over what to tell our children, churches opening their chapels so people could pray for our nation.

Then Editor Bob Hunter called in our copy desk early and we produced a second edition that day with local reaction and updated news from the wire, the first and only such edition in the history of the Mail Tribune. We got kids to hawk them on street corners and sold out within hours.

On that day and every day, journalists everywhere marshal their courage, expertise and passion to keep readers informed, sometimes risking their lives to do it.

But imagine, for just a moment, a world without news.

A world without journalists trained to ask the tough questions of authorities, dig for the truth rather than report what’s spoon-fed to them, get all sides so that readers can make informed decisions for themselves.

More than 1 in 5 newspapers has closed over the past 15 years. Between 1,300 and 1,400 communities that had a newspaper in 2004 now have no news coverage at all, according to a University of North Carolina study called “The Expanding News Desert.”

Imagine, too, what it would be like without the Mail Tribune or the Ashland Tidings, which have been covering Jackson County for more than 100 years.

Residents wouldn’t have known about the lead pipes found in Medford’s water system.

They wouldn’t have made an informed decision not to re-elect county Commissioner Doug Breidenthal after he took marijuana consulting money while in office and used public funds for his own benefit.

Curt Ankerberg, the foul-mouthed former CPA who’s run for election unsuccessfully a dozen times, might be in office by now because of name recognition alone if we hadn’t exposed his profanity.

We’ve turned the lens on ourselves as well, exposing former Tidings Editor Scot Bolsinger for defrauding local businesses before being arrested on sexual abuse charges.

Without your local newspaper, you wouldn’t see your child’s team featured on the front page of Sports after winning the state championship, or get out the word about your theater’s next production on the cover of Tempo, or weigh in on the most important issues facing the region and nation on the Opinion Page.

Friday was my last day as editor in chief of the Mail Tribune. Though I’m leaving for new opportunities with Asante, I will continue supporting these talented and dedicated journalists for the crucial role they play in our community and in a free society.

There are exciting times ahead for my colleagues. Unlike other newspapers, the Tribune, the Tidings and their owner, Rosebud Media, are growing.

They’re pushing boundaries with video, live streaming and other initiatives that will ensure the future of the company and that give advertisers multiple platforms for their message, be it in print, online, on mobile, or in video.

But the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings’ success depends on your support, dear readers and advertisers. Without journalism, democracy dies. Darkness encourages corruption. Our communities and their citizens become less informed and more divisive, because no one is giving voice to the voiceless.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Let’s make sure that choice isn’t made for us.

Cathy Noah is the former editor of the Mail Tribune. Her last day was Friday.