The familiar thump of the newspaper on your doorstep; the friendly wave of the delivery person while a groggy homeowner says hello, wearing a robe and slippers; and the image of printed words displaying local interest issues splayed out in print form on the breakfast table next to hot cups of coffee. They sound like quaint scenes from a bygone era. But in a real way, this tangible expression of local news coming reliably to your doorstep day after day is as relevant and necessary today as ever.
Yes, the world of journalism is changing. It is so easy to get news for free. There’s Facebook, Twitter, online websites and blogs. But many of the big social media outlets have been under fire recently for the way users see news on their feeds.
Much of the news content we consume at a national and local level can be found online. Many readers get news and information via web, mobile and app. Even local sources are embracing technology in a big way. Investing in digital is critical to the mission of all sources in today’s world.
As so much of the country’s attention is focused on what is happening at a national level, it is easy to forget that what is going in our local communities has the greatest impact on quality of life issues for ourselves and our families.
Local news matters. Local general-interest newspapers play a vital role. They report on and reflect the communities we live in — their interests, concerns and passions. Local news touches our lives in a tangible way.
Who else will cover truly local stories? The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post and other large newspapers with national distributions will never cover the Bakersfield City Council or Kern County Board of Supervisors. They have little incentive to investigate local conflicts or corruption. A telling example, the impactful “Lords of Bakersfield” story was published as a special report in this newspaper 15 years ago after thorough investigative reporting. Californian columnist Robert Price and then-Assistant Managing Editor Lois Henry interviewed more than 100 people and digested thousands of pages of court transcripts, investigative reports and newspaper articles, resulting in their report. This was brave and critical local reporting completed by a local paper.
The collapse in print revenues and the inability of digital monetization to pick up the slack has had disastrous effects, especially on local news: the shuttering of bureaus, hollowing out of newsrooms and cutbacks in essential local coverage.
I recently listened as NPR’s Shankar Vedantam reported that local newspaper closures come with hefty price tags for residents. The loss of local reporting means fewer investigations into fraud and waste. That has had an impact on the budgets of cities and towns.
Academic studies have found heaps of problems associated with a decline of local journalism, as The Columbia Journalism Review has detailed. The problems include less-informed voters, lower voter turnout and higher borrowing costs for local governments — because, without anyone to hold them accountable, those governments become less responsible. A good paper helps a town feel vibrant, open and accessible. They are crucial for democracy, civil society and to educate and engage voters.
Warren Buffett said it well when he invested more than $300 million in newspapers a few years ago: “If you want to know what’s going on in your town — whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football — there is no substitute for a local newspaper. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable… papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time.”
So even with a three-week-old newborn at home and a new position working full-time as a partner with my husband for our business, this is why I said yes when I got the call to write a business column for our local paper.
I studied journalism in college. I was drawn in by a hunger for the truth and attracted to the kinetic pace of journalism, with images of busy newsrooms at large metro papers.
I worked for the college press and local newspapers. I loved the reporting, serving as a watchdog for the people. I felt real purpose doing this work.
Community spirit is inherently part of human nature, and I have always wanted to know what is going on where I live, both at a macro and micro levels. When my neighborhood has a new theater or brewery opening, a local tech startup is on the horizon or a burglar is at large, most of us want to know. And how could the national outlets fulfill the requirement to report on these things for those of us who live outside of large metro cities?
So I issue my final call to arms for 2018, the case for supporting your local newspaper as often and as boldly as you can. By reading this article, sharing other pieces by reporters and purchasing ads for your business in this local newspaper, whether it be online or in print, you are taking an admirable step to do just that. By refusing to starve the watchdog, you support democracy. My manifesto is grounded in a belief that local journalism is essential to our community’s future.