This week scores of newspapers across North Dakota and South Dakota are being printed with blank front pages.
This “Dakotas Whiteout,” held during National Newspaper Week, is designed to provide a glimpse of what it would be like if there were no newspapers to provide local news to the communities they serve.
“Across the Dakotas, newspapers are the main source of local news in their communities,” said Steve Andrist, Executive Director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
“Newspaper write the first draft of history, and they are like a glue that holds communities together,” he said. “There are 90 newspapers in the state’s 53 counties that provide these vital services.”
Newspapers provide something for everyone, said Harvey Brock, publisher of the Dickinson Press and President of NDNA, “from who was born, married or passed away, to what is on sale at the market, where is the church bazar being held, when is the big game, or why is there no school today.”
Brock said leaving front pages blank is a significant commitment by newspaper publishers, but those who are doing it are convinced the message of the whiteout is critically important.
“Publishers and their staffs are tired of the narrative that people have fled from newspapers and are now getting their news from social and online media, because it simply isn’t true,” he said.
For example, research conducted earlier this year shows that newspapers are read every week in 82 percent of North Dakota households.
With more attention being paid to adversarial, uncivil and sometimes fake posts on Facebook and other social and online media, readers aren’t the only ones who are realizing that newspapers remain a trusted and vetted source of information.
“As we work toward a stronger and more prosperous future, we must be able to have a civil discourse,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND.
“Print media provides an important forum to do just that.”
Added Rep. Kevin Cramer: “Our nation’s founders recognized the freedom to publish newspapers and magazines without censorship as an essential civil liberty and a cornerstone of our democracy.”
Kelli Bultena, president of South Dakota Newspaper Association and publisher of newspapers in Lennox and Tea, asked readers to imagine what it would be like if there was no newspaper to cover the community.
“That is the message this two-state Whiteout project is meant to convey this week.”
Typically your newspaper’s front page tells you about a city council controversy, an outstanding teacher, an annual community fundraiser, or an update on energy development
Today it tells you about the importance of your newspaper. Still, the news that would normally be on page one can be found on other pages in this edition