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Small towns have been big news lately.

First, proverbially, with the controversial country-music hit "Try That in a Small Town," Jason Aldean's paean to patriotism and how "around here we take care of our own." The anthem, anathema to many who hear violent and racial overtones, has become just the latest flash point in this country's culture wars.

And then literally last Friday in an incident that seemed to consolidate, not convulse, the country: an Aug. 11 police raid on the Marion County Record's newsroom and the newspaper publisher's home, seizing material and machinery, purportedly as part of an investigation into how the paper received and managed information about a local restaurateur's 2008 drunk-driving conviction.

The aggressive tactics, very rare in America, were a metaphorical shock to the publisher and the public in Marion and beyond. Tragically, it may have been a literal shock to the publisher's 98-year-old mother and co-owner of the Record, who died just hours after the raid on her home.

Obliterating the oblique big-city/small-town lines, press-advocacy organizations sprung to action, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which on behalf of 34 news-media entities condemned the raid, questioned its legality and called for the immediate return of seized materials.

"Press freedom is an American value," Gabe Rottman, director of the Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee, said in an interview. "If you're engaged in public discourse, at whatever point in the ideological spectrum, you want those protections in place."

Not having those protections produces "a chilling effect, both for the sources who may speak to the news media and to the news media itself, and it makes it much more difficult for the public to get access to really important stories that they need to know," said Shannon Jankowski, journalism and disinformation program director at PEN America, another advocacy group rallying around the Record. "It may look at first blush like this is just an isolated incident in Kansas. But this really has a much broader effect on press freedom and on the news media. And I think everyone, whether they're in Minnesota or Kansas or anywhere, should be concerned about what this means for the news media's ability to do their job and keep the public informed."

It's important "for the reasons that really undergird the First Amendment itself," Jankowski continued. "It's the idea that we can't survive in a democratic environment if information is not allowed to be published or spoken."

Indeed, the raid on the Record is "a profound violation of the First Amendment," said Prof. Jane Kirtley, director of the University of Minnesota's Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and the Law. The advocacy reflects this fact, Kirtley said. "If this can be done to a small community newspaper in Kansas it can be done to any news organization anywhere in the United States, whether it's Fox or CNN and whether it's the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal; they're all vulnerable to this kind of overreach and I think they all recognize that. This is the time when you put aside your editorial differences and you band together to say, 'This is not acceptable in the United States of America, for government to engage in this kind of overreach.' "

A different kind of overreach — lawsuits — threaten other news organizations in small towns, as evidenced in a New York Times story from Wisconsin about the Wausau Pilot and Review, which is in extensive (and expensive, for the shoestring media organization) litigation with a local businessman (now a Republican state senator) who the Pilot and Review reported used an anti-gay slur at a public meeting. These smaller news organizations "can be sued into oblivion," Vivian Schiller, executive director of Aspen Digital, told the Times.

These kind of "SLAPP" (strategic lawsuit against public participation) cases led the Storm Lake Times Pilot to buy libel insurance for the first time, said the paper's publisher and editor, Art Cullen. "The idea of a free press is under direct assault," Cullen said, referring to the government in the Kansas case and in a courtroom in Wisconsin, where the lawsuit "aims to obliterate the local news provider."

Cullen, the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for "editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa," said that in Marion "it was just incredible the way local authorities violated local, state and federal law in order to try to eliminate an independent voice for the community."

More than 2,200 independent voices in the form of weekly newspapers have closed across the country over the last 20 years, according to the PBS NewsHour report titled "How the loss of local newspapers fueled political divisions in the U.S." The closures have also closed off a community lifeline, as evidenced in the small town of Canadian, Tex., where a local rancher told Judy Woodruff: "It's almost like a death in the family."

"Small towns have a sense of purpose," Cullen said. "And they lose that when you lose a school, and when you lose a grocery store, you lose a newspaper; you lose your connections."

Newspapers like the Storm Lake Times Pilot "tell people when their water rates are going up and their crime rates are going down, and those are all important things for people to have in their lives. … We put your kid's picture in the paper playing the tuba, and that goes up on the refrigerator. And we tell you where your tax money is going and how it's being used, and we celebrate when your baby is born and we mourn with you with an obituary," said Cullen, quipping: "And we charge for it, of course."

And sometimes, as in Cullen's case, they produce powerful journalism vital to the community and the country, and in the Marion, Kan., case, vital to the country's core principles.

Those principles were reaffirmed on Wednesday when the top prosecutor in Marion County ruled that there was insufficient evidence to justify the raid on the Record and accordingly ordered the return of everything seized in the search.

Holding a copy of the latest edition — headlined "SEIZED … but not silenced" — publisher Eric Meyer told the New York Times "You cannot let bullies win, and eventually a bully will cross the line to the point that it becomes so egregious that other people will come around and support you."

Or, perhaps in a less polarizing interpretation of Aldean's lyrics, around here we take care of our own.