Whether through my previous or current work in press relations and public affairs, or through this column, I have had the opportunity to meet and build relationships with many of Mississippi's newspaper editors and publishers.

Last week, the Newspaper Association Managers sponsored national newspaper week, a more than 60 year tradition to promote newspapers "as a vital and vigorous news medium."

The theme, "Carrying the Torch of Freedom" sought to communicate that newspapers "work outside government to represent [the public's] interests. [Newspapers are] free as privately owned businesses outside government to have that precious power as guaranteed by the First Amendment. That power, that freedom will continue to serve the public in the future. Newspapers continue to carry a torch of freedom."

So I reflected on local newspapers: the people, the business, the public service.

Mississippi has some quality newspaper professionals. I've broken bread with some and laughed and argued over the issues of the day or the lives of our families. Many I truly count as friends; some just "friendly"; and others - whether by my politics, business, or nature - I suspect find me annoying. But like good Mississippians, they're polite and respectful. Some are staunch conservatives; others unrepentant liberals: the good ones create compelling editorials and columns in support of their ideology while removing bias in their reporting.

One thing the editors and publishers have in common is a fierce business independence. The news business is just that, a business. There has been a lot of news about the decline of newspapers in the digital age. But local newspapers will survive and thrive. Of course, during this economy, like other businesses, they're seeing revenue shrink and are making cuts to compensate. But they, again like other businesses, will recover.

Publishers keep a close eye on county tax receipts and unemployment rates, not only because it's news, but because it helps them run their business. Newspapers are part of the community and they benefit when the community prospers. Some elected officials with good intentions to improve the community get frustrated when newspapers are critical of them or their actions, as if the newspaper seeks to tear down a community. Not so. Newspapers believe a free and open society that plays by the rules will in the long run be more prosperous. They hold officials accountable as they should.

This column runs in several newspapers, but I know your local editor or publisher. Without exception they are dedicated to producing a quality product for your community. Advertising makes it possible and advertising in newspapers work. I encourage you to advertise. Not to support their enterprise, but to support your own. In some towns in Mississippi, newspaper penetration reaches virtually every literate person. Those consumers are your customers and they are going to spend money and they are looking to decide where.

Your editor did not pay me to write that. I said it because I believe it and because I love newspapers. I look forward to reading a newspaper in the morning over coffee. When I return from an out-of-town trip, I stack my newspapers up in order and read through them all in case I missed something about my state, city or neighborhood. I get a daily paper and a weekly paper delivered, and read numerous others online from around the state.

I believe in journalism. To my clients, I advocate openness and disclosure with reporters because they are the ones who can get good news out to the public. If we're talking about bad news, my advice to clients is to "fix it, not hide it."

I admire journalists, particularly those who dig and report the tough stories. Sometimes in the course of my work I find their skepticism frustrating. But a good journalist, like a scientist, follows the facts. I would rather speak with a sharp and critical reporter than a partisan shill.

I'm a newspaper nerd. I enjoy reading and hearing about the newspaper industry. reporters changing papers, new papers launching, new formats. I respect advertising representatives. Without them, newspapers would die.

I think secretly I wanted to be a reporter. But like so many occupations, it is a calling and it didn't call me. On one hand, investigative reporting or breaking a story can be exciting. On the other hand, I couldn't imagine writing everyday about meetings at city hall or of the board of supervisors. It doesn't matter to a good reporter whether they find news interesting or not, and that is where the true calling comes in.

Serving as the public watchdog often does not win friends and admirers. Being the bearer of bad news - crime, deaths, lies, wrong doing - does not make newspapers the hit of the party. But it is a public service that makes our country stronger. Newspapers do carry the torch of freedom, something that I appreciate personally more than one week a year.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him online at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.