You probably don’t give this much thought, since you’re currently reading the newspaper. But you’re also probably generally aware that newspapers all over the country are struggling, and many of them have disappeared.
So...what would it be like without a newspaper? Or, to be a little more broad-minded, without a source of local professional independent journalism?
I’ll tell you exactly what it would be like. It’d be like a George Orwell novel, right here in Oceania...errr, Manhattan. Two cases in point, drawn from this past week:
•K-State’s enrollment dropped to its lowest point since 1989. Yet the university’s press release on this was headlined: “Fall 2021 sees student growth in several key areas, despite overall enrollment decline.” The first sentence: “Despite a challenging year caused by the ongoing pandemic, Kansas State University has recorded its highest graduation rate in recent history — a rate that is higher than the national average.”
It went on to trumpet above-the-norm retention rates, and a “culture of care,” and increases in transfer students and students in Salina, and on and on with the happy-talk. The press release also had the following sentence, indirectly quoting Karen Goos, the person who’s in charge of enrollment. “Goos said student application numbers show increased excitement and interest in K-State and provide evidence that the university’s enrollment management plan is working.”
It’s only working if the plan is to manage to drop by 600-plus students year-over-year. In what world is that “working”?
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. And so on. It’s Oceania, the country Orwell wrote about in “1984.”
You want to know how we concluded that enrollment had dropped to the lowest number since 1989? We first dug around on the K-State website, but annual figures stopped at 1990, which was still higher than the current figure. So I had to dig into The Mercury’s archives to find a story from September of 1989 that reported the figure.
That’s how you got the actual news. Without that, what you have is fluff and gauze and spin. Good luck buckling down on problems when the government wants to convince you it’s doing a great job.
•Speaking of which, Pottawatomie County.
The county never told anybody that its computer system had been hacked and more or less shut down for two weeks, until the county treasurer spilled the beans at a meeting early this week.
I criticized the county in a column in this newspaper, which prompted another Orwellian press release Friday, the upshot of which — once you cut through the malarkey — was that the county had to pay a hacker a ransom to get its computer systems back. How much? They wouldn’t say. We will, of course, find out, but they’re fighting us on that, too.
The press release stated, as if it was a fact, “The County did not initially share many details about the hack because it is the right thing to do” and “The resulting resolution was extraordinary, both in terms of the final settlement and the speed at which the County was able to resolve the attack.”
I repeat: This is the voice of your government, telling you (in the voice of God) that it had done the right thing, that its work was extraordinary, and that it had saved a lot of taxpayer money.
They then tried to say that they couldn’t give us the amount of the ransom because it was all still under negotiation. Despite the fact that the press release said it was resolved.
So, look, I could advise the county about how to be much more forthcoming, to just quit with the malarkey. I could beg K-State to be straight-up.
That’s never going to work. The government wants to convince you that it’s doing a good job. That will never change.
You know what makes the difference? Facts make a difference. Journalism makes a difference.
You make a difference, by subscribing. That sounds like a sales pitch from me as the newspaper publisher, and I agree. It is. But without professional journalism to insist on facts, what you’re left with is Oceania, right here in River City.