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Our opinion: Real news reflects a community back to itself. Why are local newspapers important?

The first week of October 1940 was marked by turmoil. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met to discuss inviting Spain's fascist government to join their push for world domination, while in Paris the Vichy French parliament voted to ban Jews from most public and private jobs.

Across the pond, President Franklin Roosevelt had broken with tradition (and George Washington's advice) and was running for an unprecedented third term, facing accusations by Republican Wendell Willkie that he was secretly planning to take the nation into World War II.

Against this backdrop of fast-moving events and global instability, the nation's newspaper publishers launched National Newspaper Week, as "a united front to impress American readers with the reliability, integrity and enterprise of their newspapers."

Seventy-seven years later, the world is still in turmoil and American newspapers are still hard at work, helping both print and online readers connect the dots, find solutions to problems and, increasingly, separate fiction from fact.

The theme of this year's National Newspaper Week, "Real Newspapers... Real News" is telling.

"A lot of words have been published, posted and uttered recently about fake news and real news and whether Americans have the tools necessary to differentiate between the two," writes Tom Newton, head of the 2017 NNW campaign. "I submit that they do. The tools are American newspapers, dailies and weeklies, printed and delivered to American doorsteps and accessed on laptops, tablets and smart phones. Real newspapers in all their formats are created by real journalists, and that's the key."

In an era when anyone with a smart phone and a Twitter account can send 140 unfiltered characters out into the world, the role of traditional news organizations, and newspapers in particular, is even more important than it was in 1940.

Whether you realize it or not, even people who don't purchase a printed newspaper nonetheless depend on them. Breaking news alerts come from a variety of sources, with most of the serious, labor-intensive reporting done by traditional newspapers, from the New York Times and Washington Post to the News-Times and Sandy Post.

And for local matters, newspapers are often the first and only source of information. Here are just a few examples from Pamplin Media Group newspapers:

n News-Times reporter Stephanie Haugen dug beyond inflammatory social media complaints to find the more positive but also complicated picture of the controversial Oak Grove Academy in Gales Creek last April.

n In a four-part series this year, News-Times editor Jill Smith reported on Forest Grove High School's efforts to address racial and political tensions, including a new "culture and identity" class and the powerful "Breaking Down Walls" program that sparked moving interactions between students on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

n On Feb. 2, an analysis, by the Portland Tribune and InvestigateWest, of unequal treatment in our justice system showed that in Multnomah County, ticket by ticket, arrest by arrest, African-Americans are charged with everything from pedestrian violations to drug crimes 3 to 30 times as often as white residents.

n Details about the April 26 death of 83-year-old Sellwood resident Norma Gabriel would have remained unknown, if not for reporting by the Clackamas Review, which found she'd been killed by a delivery truck in Milwaukie.

n The Aug. 30 edition of the Newberg Graphic broke the story of a schism within Friends (Quaker) churches in the region over acceptance of the LGBTQ community. In heavily-Quaker Newberg, that will take the form of churches just miles from each other belonging to two different organizations for the first time in the town's history.

n Last month, The Times told the story of a Tigard resident who went for a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge with her girlfriends, only to end up threatened by two wildfires, sheltering overnight, and enduring a harrowing all-day hike to safety the following morning.

n The Sept. 20 issue of the Madras Pioneer featured a front-page article about the sudden death of the owner of the town's only local funeral home, offering a tribute to a valued community member and a needed reassurance to readers that the funeral home's services would continue.

n Today's edition of the Portland Tribune includes news you won't find anywhere else, including the mayor's extension of the housing emergency and how the demise of a well-known garden center is leading to a city analysis of guidelines for storage center developments.

All of these reports have one thing in common. They represent an incredibly inefficient way of delivering information. Two of the articles required extensive public records work. Each required multiple interviews. And each was reviewed by an editor before getting into print. On a typical week Miles Vance, sports editor of the Lake Oswego Review and West Linn Tidings, will talk to more than a dozen student athletes — in addition to coaches, athletic directors and parents — for his stories.

Sure, dozens of news sites can tell you the score of the latest Ducks game, and they can give you an alert about some international event, but it is journalists — and usually newspaper journalists — who get beyond the scores to tell the stories, marshalling facts to tell real news. They use their shoe leather, their training and their deep knowledge of local communities to marshal facts and report the news — real news, that is.

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