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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Local Journalism in Transition

It was once normal for newspapers to print their own physical papers in-house. This

By Herald Staff

Local journalism brings a public view to the activities of government officials, community leaders and business owners. It sheds light on decisions that all too often would remain opaque. Local news connects our community, celebrates our neighbors, and gives a voice to those who might otherwise have no voice. Local reporting empowers citizens with the information needed to make knowledgeable decisions on issues that impact their daily lives.
Yet local news sources are disappearing. Financial models that brought the news to readers through the sole use of advertising revenues are increasingly no longer sustainable. From 2000 to 2020, newspaper advertising revenue fell nationally by almost 80%.
Challenge came first in the form of a necessary adjustment to the internet. Many readers, especially younger readers, turned to online suppliers for news and entertainment. This diluted the advertiser base on which newspapers relied.   

Since 2005, more than 25% of the country’s newspapers have closed.

New challenges followed as a product of social media growth and its voracious appetite for the advertising dollar. Then, local papers had to absorb the changes in business advertising brought on by the pandemic.
The business context within which local news outlets operate is fundamentally altered. Streams of revenue that once were sufficient to support the reporting of news shrank and news staffs followed suit.
Northwestern University’s Local News Initiative reported this past June on the state of local news. The findings were harsh. The report shows the negative impact on communities without a trusted local news source – a loss of transparency in government leading the list. Accountability of government and business inevitably suffers as community news outlets fold or shrink.
The corresponding response of local news sources has been the paywall, the placing of some or even most local news stories in a location accessible only to subscribers. It is a difficult time to solicit subscriptions because the competition for the subscriber dollar is fierce. From video streaming to national and international news, information and entertainment comes with a price. Everyone’s budget for subscriptions has its limit and all too often local news sources lose out.
Many local news outlets are working to preserve as much free access to news as possible, but those efforts should not be a deterrent to subscription support. As more in-depth news pieces are developed for online access, it becomes increasingly important for local journalism to have the financial support needed to continue to shed light and analysis on the issues that matter to a local community.
In Cape May County, municipal governing bodies have pulled back from remote access to their meetings. Many of those that still offer livestream do not permit public comment participation by citizens who cannot attend the meeting in person. Some like the county commissioners stream the meeting live but do not record it and post it for members of the public who need the flexibility of viewing it at a later time.
It is the job of local journalists to inform the public about the actions of their elected representatives. They dig deeper behind the events to place them in context and facilitate perspectives that would otherwise be missing.

As advertising revenue continue to be siphoned by large, international media groups, the ability of local news journalism to foster civic engagement through accurate and timely coverage of community issues atrophies.

It is through local journalism that we get the stories about our governing bodies, our schools, our businesses and our neighbors. A trustworthy source of information that deals with stories of immediate concern is essential to building community and informed citizenship.
The new normal is clear. The business model that has supported local journalism is frayed. If local newspapers are to vigorously continue to provide, accurate and essential information to the communities they serve, if they are to carry on the effort to inform and entertain readers as well as contextualize issues and events most proximate to their daily lives, they need support.
Social media is not an alternative source of trusted journalism. National news sources will not provide insight into important local concerns. Local journalism has a unique responsibility for the community it serves. Support for local journalism is the way a community ensures that the special relationship is preserved.
Many newspapers will survive. But for America’s newspapers to inform citizens on important matters necessary to maintain a democracy, they require sufficient resources to do the job.

From the Bible: … The truth will set you free.  From John 8

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