Checking in as a citizen and paying attention to public meetings has always been important. But now, maybe more than ever, your rights as a citizen to have access to public meetings remains imperative.

As a newspaper organization dedicated to serving the citizens of Sheridan County, our staff has been fighting hard to keep public meetings public, even if it means learning a multitude of new virtual formats. Just last week, I listened into Sheridan County Circuit Court via Microsoft Teams, stayed appraised of Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library’s closure plans through Zoom and typed out meeting agendas that included all previously mentioned options in addition to utilization of established technologies.

Everyone had alternative call-in or video-conferencing options for journalists and, like I’ve written before, made accommodations for reporters to check into meetings.

Citizen access remains equally important in public meetings, though, especially for those being directly impacted by decisions — which is all of us. The problem that has been and likely will get worse as public meetings become more difficult to attend is citizen participation.

Fortunately, at nearly every public meeting, there is almost always a reporter from The Sheridan Press present.

But our time isn’t free. Our entire staff — including designers, human resources, press crews, circulation, marketing specialists, front office staff and carriers — need to be paid like an employee of any other business. Throw in necessary health benefits, child care and infrastructure costs, and you have what looks like a fully-functioning private business. That’s because it is.

In a relevant episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain published Dec. 10, 2018, host Shankar Vedantam looks into the impact made in Denver after the closing of longtime print newspaper Rocky Mountain News. The stalwart publication ran from April 23, 1859, and succumbed to the economic decline Feb. 27, 2009. The result in Denver meant unchecked politicians and stories of corruption that took too long to surface to the general public. That city even had another newspaper on which to lean.

As Vedantam points out, many individuals approach whether to subscribe to a newspaper as consumers, and therefore consider the same things they would for other consumer goods — price, convenience, whether they are too busy to utilize it, etc. But, research from finance professors Paul Gao, Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy suggests that newspapers might be more like police departments and fire departments.

In essence, Vedantam said, “for a variety of reasons, some of which we might not understand, newspapers appear to be vital to the civic and vital natural health of their cities, just like public schools or libraries or fire departments.

“But unlike those other services, newspapers are also private entities that must succeed financially in order to survive,” he continued. “In some parts of the world, taxpayers finance public interest journalism in the same way they pay for national defense, highways and police.”

The Sheridan Press reporters have been here for more than 100 years — since 1887, under various names. We’ve covered world wars, The Great Depression, devastating fire seasons, 9/11, weddings, funerals, births, graduations and so many other historic and historical events. We’ve been through it all, along with our readers, advertisers and sources.

We’ll be there to help the community make it through this challenge, too. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. We are there with you.