Don’t Ignore Your Dying Local Newspaper for Democracy’s Sake
If you care about democracy, transparency, and accountability, you need to pay attention…
what we are witnessing right now isn’t the start of something bad, its the result of something getting worse.
I love the internet, most of my job prospects, relationships, and knowledge would be unattainable without it. Technology, however scary sometimes, I think is amazing, even if it means going through some tough transitions socially and economically.
I’m writing this from my Mac Book Air using public wifi at my local library, which seems to be pumping out more free ebooks than physical books. I have my Iphone right next to me in case someone calls, and since smoking isn’t allowed, that is personally fine since I have a vape, which is perfectly acceptable.
I get my news like most of you, through social media and the regular sites I still visit when I start off my day. However, I still go to the local coffee shop and dish out $3 for a Wall Street Journal newspaper. More often than not, I still go onto my local newspapers website or grab a physical copy of the daily paper my parents still subscribe too. While the local news isn’t as sexy as what I’ll see on cable networks or read in the WSJ, I still discover something new in my community that actually impacts my life. More than local gossip, sometimes there is actually something worth discussing that I wouldn’t know otherwise.
When I worked as an editorial assistant at The American Conservative, a peer of mine was growing increasingly worried about the consolidation of power amongst the social media cartels. At the time I thought he was paranoid, worried about progress as a culture and a booming tech economy, but the more information became readily available about shadow banning, social media censorship, and finally the deplatforming of unpopular individuals such as Alex Jones, the grim reality of the tech cartel’s control became too big to ignore.
As I discussed during my recent appearance on the Brian Nichols show, what we are witnessing right now isn’t the start of something bad, its the result of something getting worse.
While the current scare amongst conservatives and libertarians is intentional blacklisting and censorship, the first casualty of this social media empire isn’t one page or one account or some random YouTube channel- its your local newspaper.
To add some context, local newspapers and even nationwide magazines were on a downhill trend even before Facebook and the others. Helen Lewis from New Statesmen America in a piece regarding the same topic stated:
Today’s journalism students are encouraged to become jacks of all trades — they learn how to make videos, record podcasts and use databases, they master Photoshop, they understand social media and, yes, they even write and edit stories.
But apart from simply changing mediums, the market has been turning away from print media for some time now:
Local newspapers, once the training ground for young reporters, are dying out: there has been a net loss of 198 since 2005, according to the Press Gazette. Their classified adverts have gone online or gone altogether, and some of those titles that remain are consolidated into remote industrial parks, far from the communities they serve.
Grand economic changes are very similar to forest fires (whether natural or controlled). While John Maynard Keynes’ Broken Window theory (fallacy) is stupid, in practice, it brings the results that it proposes. For a while now, the newspaper industry has been the trees trapped in the fury of the brush fires brought about by bad timing and inability to more faster in the direction of consumer trends. Glynn Wilson from the New America Journal wrote in April that:
The Newhouse chain, which owned the Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times in Alabama, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and the Plain Dealer in Cleveland (and other places), tried to keep it’s news monopoly going on the web. But when the Bush Great Recession crashed the economy in 2007–2008, the downturn was too much for them. They lost hundreds of ad pages and fired or retired most of the staffs, including the highly paid editors and publishers, and shuttered new buildings that had been financed on cooked books showing another 20 years of growth for print advertising.
The market delivers what consumers want- and they want easier, faster, and more mobile content to feed their craving for click bait and other ways than reading.
The sad thing is though that the market hasn’t taken into account the growing “news deserts” as in regions and localities in the US where there is almost no reporting of local news from a resident’s point of view. Researchers at Duke University concluded:
[M]ore than 16,000 news stories, gathered over seven days, across 100 U.S. communities not situated in major media markets. They found 20 communities where local news outlets contained not a single local news story.
The rest of the study is even more disturbing for working class communities:
“These findings tell us that communities with minority populations may not be as well served by local news outlets. They also tell us that large-market journalism can, to some extent, drown out local journalism in nearby communities, and that local news outlets don’t seem to be devoting journalistic resources to covering county government, unlike in the past…”
While the average American things their politics are national and their tastes in lifestyle are global, it can be incredibly dangerous for local publications to do their job- be a watchdog for tax payers and consumers- if consumers don’t care.
It is vital that if the local newspaper must die, local journalists continue to report the news and investigate stories as a matter of principle.