Individual newspapers travel on a track during publishing

Newspapers travel along a track to be sorted into bundles at The Berkshire Eagle in August 2021.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Whether it was the North Adams Transcript or The Berkshire Eagle, I grew up with a newspaper in my childhood home. In college, my journalism professor required all students to have a subscription to the New York Times.

My mom not only understood the importance of the local daily newspaper, but she also contributed to many charities that she was passionate about. From Catholic Relief Services, Food for the Poor, Southern Poverty Law Center, Doctors Without Borders and the ASPCA, to name a few, my mom was an extremely generous person and made contributions to charities even though she was on a fixed income. She wanted to contribute to organizations that did good work in the world.

I also make charitable giving a part of my life with donations to the Berkshire United Way and ASPCA, and when the cashier at the Wild Oat Food Co-op in Williamstown, or anywhere else, asks me to round up my amount, at the register, for a donation to a particular organization, I generally say yes. I mean we are talking about spare change, right?

Since my mom died, I have donated many of her belongings — mostly her clothes.

Back in early March, I donated her hospital bed, a ramp and some incontinence products to a woman who answered an ad that I placed in The Berkshire Eagle’s classifieds. While I had asked for a modest $100 for the hospital bed, I ended up donating it all to the woman, who needed the bed and supplies to be able to get her daughter home from a nursing rehabilitation facility, where she had been a resident languishing for nearly a year.

I make as many charitable donations as I can afford. I donate my redeemable cans and bottles to BFAIR in North Adams. When I go to Petco, I sometimes make a modest donation to homeless animals.

But the truth is, I have begun a new trend in my charitable giving — buying digital subscriptions to national newspapers. While I have a free digital subscription to The Berkshire Eagle, a perk of being an employee, I also have digital subscriptions to The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe. Fortunately, in a couple of those cases, I am able to enjoy an educator’s discount as I have been an adjunct at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for more than 20 years. Also, the introductory rate has been so cheap, it seemed crazy not to subscribe and support an organization that does important work.

The Globe subscription is especially dear to me because I truly enjoy and am inspired by the photography of Craig Walker, a Berkshire Eagle alum and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who now works there. I used to admire the photography of Walker, Leslie Noyes and the late Joel Librizzi when I was a teenager and budding young photographer growing up in Williamstown. Some 30 years ago, when I began my career, I sometimes worked beside them.

While I don’t look at the digital subscriptions of the newspapers I subscribe to every single day, the commitment to supporting journalism is something I cannot afford to ignore.

People often ask me if I still work at The Eagle, which is always a bit of an affront, since they are obviously not a subscriber. Others will complain to me about the cost of a subscription or the recent increase. And with at least one online news source giving their content away for free, yet asking readers for donations, it’s a shame that some have become accustomed to getting their local news and information for no cost.

“Do you work for free?” I ask.

While the term “free press” can be deceiving, free is short for freedom. Free press is the right of newspapers, magazines, etc., to report the news without being controlled by the government, as it is in many parts of the world where citizens are treated to a daily dose of propaganda.

I have never made a lot of money working as a journalist. When I could barely make ends meet, I found side hustles like teaching or freelance photography doing weddings and other event photography.

Journalism is a calling and not for everyone. Maybe I’m not doing the work of lawyers in the Southern Poverty Law Center or physicians in Doctors Without Borders, but the work of journalists is becoming even more valuable in our society. News deserts are forming across our country, as newspapers fold and disappear leaving citizens without reliable or reputable news outlets.

I heard recently that newspaper subscribers have to sometimes make hard choices about their budgets. These are difficult times following the pandemic with inflation soaring around the world, as many people, including myself, live on fixed incomes. But to my surprise, I learned that often people cancel their newspaper subscription in lieu of other subscriber services like Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu and Paramount+. I could barely believe that someone would choose to cancel their local, daily newspaper subscription and live with that void.

To know what is going on in our communities, our country and the world is an important part of being a citizen of planet Earth. People need to learn to distinguish between what is fact-based and what is opinion. That kind of critical thinking is something our country is lacking right now as the line between fact and fiction is clearly a bit blurred.

If the free press disappears from our country, so will our democracy, which depends on the press holding our leaders and politicians accountable. It is a balancing act and sometimes it feels like the free press is losing. But as long as people continue to support journalism, our fourth estate will hang on and we need that system of checks and balances — now more than ever.

Gillian Jones, an Eagle visual journalist, writes a monthly op-ed series. Her email is gjones@berkshireeagle.com.