Of the many horrific, and often fatal, symptoms of COVID-19, the one that health experts never warned us about was that it could make us dumber.
But this week, an important, time-honoured and irreplaceable portion of our national intellect has been severed, leaving regional cities and towns across our nation without a local paper.
News Corporation made the reluctant decision to permanently shut 112 printed newspapers around Australia, with 76 of them surviving as digital-only publications.
Of these, many will be absorbed into the mastheads of metro dailies, such as the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, and this decision most critically will see the loss of potentially hundreds of professional newspeople.
For those of us living outside of Sydney, the implication is that what matters to us could go unreported, uncatalogued and unremarked upon.
Reading this in the Illawarra Mercury, you might think us lucky that our community newspaper has survived and perhaps you might assume this tragedy won't affect us.
But Australian Community Media, owner of the Mercury and 159 other regional newspapers and magazines, faces the same commercial realities that has so badly devastated News Corp's community mastheads.
We've all observed the rise of the internet and social media that has brought about the slow decline of the revenues that had always been derived through classified advertising on television, radio and in newspapers. It is a classical example of disruption.
But what goes under-reported is how significantly media organisations and mastheads have already trimmed their business models to adapt, in a way that most of us haven't had to until the rise of the pandemic.
What we will lose through the collapse of these community mastheads is a source of truth, and verified information about what is actually happening in the world. Mastheads like the Illawarra Mercury are staffed by highly-trained journalists who are held (and hold themselves) to a high standard of integrity.
Their reporting is overseen by their peers, through the Australian Press Council, the government, through the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and even the ABC, on its Media Watch program. If we lose our traditional media, all we are left with is fake news.
That term, 'fake news', has become a colloquialism, a figure of speech, but what it references is a real threat to our national IQ. The rise of social media as not only threatened traditional media in commercial terms, but it has diluted its influence - which has significant implications. Many of us believe that the posts scrolling past us on our Facebook feeds present some form of the truth, much as the news does.
But of course, they are more often opinion, 'click bait' and fake news, designed to at best collect clicks, and at worst misrepresent or mislead. How else can we explain the rise of anti-vaxers and the array of other wild and incorrect assertions that masquerade as fact across social media platforms?
Powerful regional media outlets have for hundreds of years served their communities in a number of important ways.
The first is representation. Since they have existed, regional media has been the source of powerful campaigns that have delivered outcomes for towns and regions that lie far beyond the cities where power is centred and decisions are made.
Every Minister in a government, for example, receives a morning bundle of clippings, and you can be assured that where a politician's name appears in a regional media story, they will assiduously study the content and absorb the argument being made, no matter how strenuously they might disagree.
Large corporates operate similarly, and what this means is that the humblest letter writer can have their opinions known in the halls of power - through the amplifier of their local media.
The second key role of regional media is to replace the town crier, and to act as a community noticeboard for the populace to gather round and to be at the centre of a town or city's life. Businesses have relied on community news outlets to promote their products for generations.
And in turn, outlets like the Mercury have celebrated local businesses and welcomed new ones. Stories of local sporting triumph and defeat have been faithfully journaled by our local press, while the big metros have never made space.
Births and deaths and marriages have also been recorded here for generations. And the local authorities have benefited from the ready ability to inform us all of the implications of any lawbreaking.
Here in the Illawarra, this newspaper of record has served us since 1855, when it was established as a "not only a conduit for information but an advocate for change in a community that had little or no means of advancing its cause."
Soon, many towns across our nation will have no source of truth, and no champion for their cause. You don't need to scroll too far down the Facebook comments beneath a local news story to find someone whinging that they don't have a subscription and asking for a screenshot.
They're intrigued by what is happening in their community around them but refuse to cough up $3.75 per week for the privilege. Emerging from COVID with our community intact will require all of us to support local businesses. So support our local media outlets because we are now among the lucky few communities to still have them.
Adam Zarth is the Executive Director of the Illawarra Business Chamber and Illawarra First.