Democracy can’t fly blind. The framers of our Constitution understood this. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, if you have to choose between government or a free press, pick the newspaper.

An informed electorate is essential to representative government. Armed with accurate information, people can choose the people and policies they wish to support. But it all starts with reliable information.

And here’s the thing. You won’t get that information from Fox News, CNN or MSNBC. The national media giants could care less about what’s happening in Maryville or Alcoa. About what members of the Blount County Commission are doing with your tax dollars. Whether the school board is making wise decisions about when to go back to school during a pandemic. The quality of care our hospital is providing.

Only a good local newspaper is going to give you that. Fortunately, we have one. At least for now.

The Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times, now The Daily Times, has been in the news and information business since 1883, when Chester A. Arthur was president. That was 15 years before the Spanish-American War and 30 years before the Titanic sunk — both of which were covered by our newspaper.

For 137 years, the Times has been doing what good newspapers do. Reporting the news as fairly and accurately as possible. And serving as a forum for diverse viewpoints on the issues facing our town, our nation and our world.

Now, The Daily Times is experimenting with giving up one of those two critical functions. We’ll still get the news. But we won’t be challenged, informed or exposed to the ideas — the viewpoints — that are competing for our support.

Once again, you won’t get this stuff on Fox News or MSNBC. You’ll get one viewpoint. Theirs.

A newspaper’s job is to give you both sides of an issue. Liberal and conservative. Republican and Democrat.

Americans have grown so accustomed to only listening to views they agree with that when they read a viewpoint that challenges their own, they often take offense. Never realizing that it is part of a newspaper’s core mission to challenge, inform and — yes — to offend from time to time.

I’m not a Pat Buchanan fan, but I want to know what this smart man who was a higher-up for Richard Nixon thinks. I also want to know what more moderate Republicans like George Will and Kathleen Parker think. These writers won Pulitzer Prizes. They are among the smartest commentators in the world.

It also would be nice to know what a smart

Democrat like Tom Friedman or Eugene Robinson has to say.

But while each person is entitled to his own opinion, no one is entitled to his own facts. There is such a thing as objective truth.

It is the responsibility of a good newspaper to try to find it and report it as accurately as possible. Oftentimes, this means quoting multiple sources.

We can be proud of our town’s longstanding commitment to professional journalism and the countless awards and recognitions our newspaper has received. I know of no more distinguished mid-sized daily in the state.

Now is the time for citizens to speak out and speak up. To renew their commitment to our local newspaper and to insist that it do what all good newspapers do: Inform us, enlighten us, even if it makes us angry from time to time.

American democracy was a bold experiment in civic freedom and responsibility. It still is. But it is the nature of experiments that they may fail. The surest way to ensure failure is to quit working at our democracy. Just do the easy thing. Stop reading. Stop thinking.

Uninformed voters will eventually do what millions of Americans already are doing. Revert to their tribes. Red state. Blue state. Support the people that look like me. That worship like me. That talk like me. Regardless of whether their ideas are good or bad. Right or wrong.

Democracy is not a football game where we cheer for our team even if the quarterback is a criminal. Citizenship requires more of us than that. We must read. Listen. Learn. Choose.

A good local newspaper enables us to do that. Without one, we are flying blind.

Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, attorney, school superintendent and longtime Blount County resident and occasional columnist for The Daily Times.

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