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Why a Free, Independent and Local Newspaper Matters

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by David Kelley

Robert Kennedy used to quote what he said was a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” The brave new, world of digital communications, iPhones and three-dimensional copiers most likely qualifies our times as “interesting.” But, while Facebook and Twitter can tell us what our best friend ate for lunch, neither will provide solutions for parking shortages, unsatisfactory educational outcomes, or budget deficits. There is a public conversation that is vital to the health and well-being of a community, and that conversation doesn’t happen in the Apple cloud. On the contrary, the Apple cloud is characterized mostly by hit-and-run conversations, informational bulimia and selfies taken by naked, egotistical celebrities.

One of the best political science lectures I ever heard took place in a taxicab in New York City before the Communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed. The cab driver was from Poland. I asked why he had left his country. He said Poland was blessed with an abundance of natural resources, like harbors and vast iron and coal reserves. He explained that those resources should have made Poland a great country. But, he went on to say, Poland was poor, there were no opportunities, fear was palpable, and dreams, hopes and ambitions all died aborning. He called Poland a country without a future. Then he said, “But look at Austria. It is tiny. It is landlocked. It has no mineral reserves. But Austria is a great country with a great future.”

Both Poland and Austria had to answer the same questions. What kind of public services are we going to have? What kind of schools do we want? What laws do we want to govern us? Whom do we want to lead us? What kind of businesses do we want to patronize? What kind of future do we want to create? The systems and tools the Poles and Austrians had in place to help answer those questions were more critical to the outcomes than any other measure of wealth.

There was an elegant genius to this cab driver’s lecture. He said our minds and our ideas were worthless when they weren’t shared. Austrians had a free, independent press and a civil society that could engage in difficult but vital conversations about their future. He said that despite their coal, their iron ore and their seaports, the Polish people, lacking free speech and a free press, had been robbed of their most precious resource: a future.

I used to live near Virginia City, Montana. Virginia City was the site of one of the richest gold deposits in North America. Today, Virginia City is a relic because what that cab driver told me in New York years ago was true. People came there to get rich without understanding what “rich” meant. The conversation about who we are and what we hope to become is more precious than gold.

For over 20 years The Bridge has been the host and moderator of our conversation about who we are and what we want to become. It has been a forum for sharing our ideas, our visions, our dissent and our disagreements. Without The Bridge the difficult conversations about taxes, parking, schools and what we want to become might never happen.

The Bridge is a unique and valuable institution. It has been tended to by Nat Frothingham, Jake Brown, Mason Singer, Glenn  Sturgis, Vermont College of Fine Arts and dozens of other citizens. It is a genuine community newspaper. It is free, independent and local—and the rewards of that have been great. It may not tell us what our best friends had for lunch, but it will tell us about some great places to eat, the future of the food economy and a whole lot more. It might even help Montpelier solve its parking problem.

Let’s keep it going.

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