Newspapers around the world have resorted to a dramatic form of non-statement, the blank front page, to protest censorship and other threats to press freedom.
This week, more than 200 local newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota employed the same eye-catching tactic to highlight the importance of newspapers to their local communities.
The blank front page stunt was orchestrated by a local publishing trade organization, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, to commemorate its 150th anniversary. It comes amid mounting concern about the long-term financial viability of small local newspapers.
Many of the newspapers ran editorials explaining the meaning of the blank front pages and urging readers not to take the work that goes into reporting local news for granted. It also took a few swipes at the newspapers’ powerful new rivals.
The Duluth News Tribune argued: “Imagine what it would be like without a newspaper keeping watch.
Where would residents turn to for reliable information? Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? Be serious. We all know those sites are great for sharing photos and family anecdotes, but they cannot compete with a local newspaper for sound professional journalism and advertising trustworthiness.”
The newspapers also touted the advantages of their medium for advertisers, encouraging local businesses to align their brands with trusted, premium local news content. The Duluth News Tribune cited data from MarketingSherpa, based on a survey of 2,400 consumers, who named newspapers and magazines as the most trusted medium for gathering information when making a purchase decision, at 82% of respondents.
The News Tribune editorial closed with a powerful reminder: “If newspapers go away, who's going to expose possible corruption in City Hall or elsewhere? Who's going to alert residents about new taxes? Or explain confusing fiscal issues at the university? Or document public spending? Or follow the football team down the road? Facebook? While you contemplate our blank front page today, consider that.”
While not often seen in the U.S., big newspapers worldwide have published blank front pages in protest against government repression and threats of violence from criminal gangs.
A number of Turkish newspapers have published blank front pages to protest government intimidation and the arrests of journalists.