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Next April the Banner will have survived 179 years as Bennington’s newspaper. It was founded by a group of citizens, including Rep. Hiland Hall, our historian, in 1841, to give voice to their views as members of the Whig Party. Over time it ceased being a party platform, and today gives voice to a wide variety of opinions.

Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness that the Banner continues to operate, in spite of the pressures that affect all of us during these difficult times. It is one of most valuable assets of our town.

Some people are unhappy with the paper. A daily paper that doesn’t reach you on that day is not worth much, and delivery delays have plagued the Banner since the arrival of COVID. This is not the paper’s fault. Having shifted away from the traditional newsboy/newsgirl delivery system, the paper has had to rely on the U.S. mail. And everybody knows that institution has suffered its own problems in this period, including a lack of personnel, that has led to many criticisms and delays.

Then there’s the price, having gone up to $1.25 an issue recently. Everything’s gone up lately, food, gas, everything. It’s inevitable.

Critics will hold up a copy and shake it and ask, “Is this worth a buck and a quarter?” Let me tell you, it is.

Let’s start by imagining Bennington without the Banner. There’s nothing that can replace a good town newspaper. You might get your news from the net or television, but you won’t hear much about Bennington from those sources. You won’t hear from neighbors who write letters to the editor or columnists who appear in the Banner every day. You would lose a vital connection to the place we call home. You won’t be able to follow local sports teams or get the news on how the Selectboard is doing.

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It would be a sad day if the Banner closed down. Local newspapers are failing all over the country. If they’re not closing their doors, they’re shrinking in size and coverage, and losing revenue from advertising. There are so many different stresses, even before the pandemic arrived and the economy tripped and fell.

If the Banner fails, how would you ever know my opinions about the town and its challenges? That alone should carry some weight in the decision whether to continue to subscribe.

I’m kidding, of course, but only partly. A local paper is a place for news, but it’s also a place for people to see the views of their neighbors. One columnist might inspire, another might provoke—maybe even provoke you enough to write a letter to the editor in response. But even if all you do is crinkle the paper with your fists at what you’ve read, you’ve been moved to think about something in a new way. Maybe change your mind. Maybe not.

A buck and a quarter for the Banner is a bargain. Compare that to the cost of a cup of coffee or a gallon of gas. The 29 minutes you spend reading the paper is an essential part of your day. It gives you things to think about, argue about, and often laugh about. When you’re done you can recycle it or use it to line your birdcage, but what you took from it remains. Day by day, the experience of reading the paper satisfies a need no other medium can supply.

I’m privileged to be able to write a column for the Banner once or twice a month. I know I make editors uncomfortable at times. I know my views are not entirely mainstream. But I speak for a lot of people who share my beliefs, one of which is the benefit of having a wide variety of opinions printed on the same page. Thank heaven the Banner isn’t a Whig rag any longer. Today it’s an engine of diversity, both political and cultural diversity. Don’t give up your subscription. This paper is too important to fold.

Mike Bethel is a resident of Bennington. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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