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KOUTOULAS: Could coronavirus silence the press?

I’ve been a newspaper junkie all my life. Some of my earliest memories involve reading the Sunday comics on the floor of our living room while my dad read the rest of the paper.

I’ve maintained a regular subscription to the Lexington Herald-Leader for most of my adult life.

When we made the decision to move to Winchester in 2015, the first thing I did — even before closing on our house — was to put in a subscription to The Winchester Sun.

I had no idea at the time that I would wind up writing for the paper. But here I am, doing just that nearly every week for the last year. 

I am not a professional journalist. I write opinion columns as a community columnist and receive no recompense from The Sun, other than a complimentary subscription. 

I have no “inside” information about the state of this paper, so everything I’m saying in this piece comes solely from personal observation and speculation. 

I don’t depend on this business for my livelihood. But I know many journalists who do.

I know many who have left or been forced out of the industry by the catastrophic blows absorbed by media companies in the last 10 years.

I know many more who are still hanging in there, facing fears of an uncertain future.

Then came the pandemic. 

And it’s gotten much worse. 

Yes, things are tough all over. But the situation with media in general — and newspapers in particular — is especially worrisome. Look around the world. The places where freedoms are rare and information is most difficult to come by are always places where there is no functioning free press.

But it’s not just about information. Without an independent watchdog, governments and other powerful institutions are free to operate in ways that aren’t always in the best interest of folks like you and me.   

The founders of this nation deemed the press so vital it is the only enterprise guaranteed to be free from government intervention. 

Our founders recognized that powerful governments need to be held accountable for their actions, and this can only be accomplished by a free and independent press.

As The Washington Post proclaims on its masthead, “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Times do change. Sources of news evolve. Through the decades of the 20th century, new technologies emerged, each one threatening to destroy newspapers. Newsreels, radio, TV and the internet — each was supposed to be the end of newspapers. 

And while the internet has, by far, presented the biggest challenge, newspapers have adapted and learned to utilize it for their own survival. The industry has been critically wounded but has mostly managed to stay afloat. 

Then came the pandemic.

Could it be that the final death knell for newspapers will be sounded not by yet another new disruptive technology, but by a tiny bug? 

Already some papers have folded since the economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. This newspaper has cut its weekly print editions to just two. Advertising is nearly nonexistent. 

I believe The Sun will weather this storm and eventually get back to regular publishing. But what form that will take, or even whether it will happen at all, is still unsettled. 

In the meantime, I ask you to support this newspaper. If you don’t already subscribe, please consider doing so. Share articles on social media. Patronize advertisers. Tell family and friends about interesting things you’ve spotted in The Sun.

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A sharp-eyed reader — who happens to be a friend and fellow Sun columnist — pointed out an error in my column last week about expanded absentee voting. 

In noting that Kentucky officials had decided to allow all primary voters to complete ballots via mail-in absentee vote, I made the following statement: “For the first time in Kentucky, all registered voters in the primary will be able to vote by mail through an absentee ballot.”

What I should have said was all members of the two dominant parties holding primary elections will be able to vote in the primary. My friend is one of the thousands of Kentuckians who are not members of either major party and cannot vote in Kentucky’s closed primary system. 

I believe Kentucky, as well as the 32 other states that conduct fully or partially closed primaries, should open them up to all registered voters regardless of party affiliation. 

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Facebook at fb.me/PeteTheSun.