It’s like the proverbial tree in the forest: Is it news if no one is there to cover it?
This fascinating — and frankly, depressing — report from PBS’ Judy Woodruff explores the dangers of the decline in local news.
My alma mater the Medill School of Journalism put some numbers to the challenge: Since 2005, about 2,500 local newspapers have shut down, newspaper revenue dropped by an estimated $30 billion and now one in five Americans live in a “news desert,” leaving them without access to credible, trustworthy news and information about their communities.
Where do they go instead for information? Social media. You know what happens from there … Nothing good. Just look at January 2022.
I’ve seen this trend firsthand. For a brief stint between 2015 and 2017, I left government and politics to build a strategic communications team for a high-growth tech startup. When I returned to public affairs and started consulting with Team CBL, the statehouse press corps in Springfield was a mere shadow of itself. The hard-working journalists still on the beat were having to do more with even less than ever before (and for those of you who’ve worked in a newsroom, you know it wasn’t much to begin with!). Imagine the stories they — and therefore, we — are missing.
The shifts have made us adapt our own counsel at CBL to our clients. Whereas our first turn previously may have been to give a news exclusive to a beat reporter, we’re more inclined to help our clients tell their own stories first — produce a video, develop social posts, or craft blog and email content, and yes, issue a news release. It’s both a reflection of the diversification of communications platforms at our fingertips, but it’s also a result of fewer reporters on the job and less time for them to dedicate to any one story.
News outlets themselves have been forced to adapt, with many making the move to a nonprofit model, but it remains to be seen how that approach will work out long-term, especially in smaller markets that may not have the wherewithal to go that direction.
So what to do?
Don’t allow us to become a country of what Medill Professor Penny Abernathy scarily called a divide between the “journalistic haves and have nots.”
Pay for your news!
Subscribe to your local weekly paper (I’m looking at you, Wednesday Journal). Sign up for the new “hyper local” outlet covering your neighborhood. Support organizations that are helping these unsung newsroom heroes like The Recorder, Mississippi Today and the American Journalism Project. And always remember: Local news matters.
This article was written by President Natalie Bauer Luce. Natalie is a seasoned communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience in government, law, media, politics and business.