Local journalism matters


There is one thing keeping us in the loop: the news media. Unfortunately, local news is disappearing right in front of us.

It wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest when a person thinks of the news media, they think of CNN and The New York Times (NYT). According to a July 2019 Pew Research Center report cable news rose 4% in revenue while newspaper circulation fell to its lowest level since 1940 (Barthel, 2019).

Yet, after the 2016 election, the NYT announced subscribers rose rapidly with 276,000 in the last three months of 2016 according to a news article in Quartz (Mejia and Rodriguez, 2017)

Because of this, it may seem like the news media is doing fine, but it really only applies to some national organizations. Local news media, whether it’s newspapers, radio, or television are hurting.

Last year, Augustana hosted Dame Frances Cairncross, a veteran journalist from Great Britain. The presentation titled “The Future of the Press in a Free Society,” gave a rather grim outlook.

In Dame Cairncross’ lecture the message was: local news is in trouble. The rise of Google and other tech companies, according to Cairncross, are making them too powerful and in need of regulation.

The lecture continued with Cairncross noting the decline in traditional newspaper readership.

The recent change in how we consume media has disrupted local journalism. Cairncross found that many consumers receive their news online. The problem for newspapers was that their sites allowed free reading. Now the money is in online advertising and many local news media organizations are suffering.

It seems consumers are used to reading news online without having to deal with paywalls: the requirement to be a subscriber to a news organization for full access to stories.

The largest paper near my home has been sold and merged over the last decade and people like my dad don’t want to spend over $5 for a single issue of the paper.

This mentality has made it harder for local news to maintain a base of consumers.

I ended up interning for the paper near my home and the office space looked lost in time. Desks with people’s names I never saw and a small, but extremely hardworking and dedicated staff had to cover an immense amount of topics on the daily.

When local news, whether it’s print, radio or T.V. starts to shrink because of corporate buy-outs and bankruptcy the community is at a loss for information.

Who can keep local politicians honest? Who could spend the time to uncover local corruption? Who will ethically report on important issues in our communities? The New York Times can’t tell us what happens in our school board meetings.

If we want to avoid an absence of truth it requires bold solutions to keep our local media away from the dark abyss.

Photo Illustration by Brady Johnson.