THE DEATH of a great newspaper like The Washington Star is of course not an unheardof tragedy, but neither is it unheard of that a purchaser suddenly appears to buy such a publication. So we always hold open the possibility and the hope, as was the case of The Times in London, that someone will step forward and prevent this from becoming a one-newspaper town.
For what is a community with but one daily print voice? I consider few threats the equal to those impinging upon the First Amendment, with its guarantees of the right of the people to know. That's what Time Inc.'s decision to end publication of The Star on Aug. 7 has vividly illustrated the perception many in this city have that Washington needs a paper that will cover more of the city and its neighborhoods and people.
Some people told me they felt The Star did a better job of this than The Post. But I don't think The Star was willing to be enough of a separate voice, enough of an alternative or community newspaper. Its demise perhaps provides an opportunity for some community paper to emerge and fill the void.
Evangeline Hines of Northwest Washington compared Washington with Madison, Wis., where she formerly lived. "In that town, the newspapers covered a lot of detail of the local scene. It made for a much more cohesive community. Here one sectin of the city doesn't know what's going on in another section. It's hard for me to have any sense of community with people who live west of the park, for example, to really know what's going on in their minds; and I doubt if they know what's going on in my mind. I like The Post, but it is an international paper. It would be great if Washington could be like Paris. There, there is something for every taste."
The prospect of a one-daily-newspaper town is particularly upsetting to some blacks, such as Mary Barry, professor of history and law at Howard University. "It's going to be disastrous not to have some other alternative available to the community. We have the weekly Afro-American. But then we'll have only one major daily, and I'm not sanguine about the prospect of having adequate coverage of black issues and concerns with no major competition being available to The Post. I am concerned about the treatment in the media in general of information and material concerning black politicans and other leadership."
Ofield Dukes, a black public relations specialist, echoed this concern. "It's very tragic that Washington may end up being a one-newspaper city, and at the same time there is a critical need for a highly competitive, full-service black newspaper." Dukes said he is trying to start a first-class black newspaper in Washington to serve the estimated 70 percent of the city's 700,000 residents who are black, as well as the additional 390,000 nonwhites in nearby Maryland and Virginia.
"I don't think the problems of The Star would be the same problems that a black newspaper would face. The folding of The Star and the changing political climate make an alternative newspaper even more urgent," Dukes said. He said a group of black investors has pledged $1.2 million in financial support for his proposed paper, which is scheduled to begin publishing in 1982.
Newspapers have been declining in numbers since the early 1930s, when radio was seen as the culprit. Their numbers dropped further in the 1950s, with the advent of television. Where once there had been towns with many newspapers, the electronic age has brought us to the point where few cities have more than two papers.
But beyond the question of whether The Star eventually will be purchased, I join in the lamentatin of everyone who understands the importance of the First Amendment and how it functions.
For the bottom line is that a community is best served by many voices. That's what the framers of the Constitution had in ind. That's what we all hope will be the case in Washington.