Jacoby: “Local News is Dying, and It’s Taking Small Town America With It”

Bloomberg Online ran an interesting story last year with the alarming headline “Local News is Dying, and It’s Taking Small Town America With It.” Full disclosure – I’m an editor/writer with a local news publication. If you don’t believe me, my byline is right above this paragraph.

One of the many parts of the Bloomberg article that I found interesting was right up at the top – “updated on Sept. 6, 2018.” This is a topic that will continue to be updated and the updates don’t appear to be good news for small town America because local news continues to disappear from our daily lives on a daily basis.

When we first decided to launch WeLoveDexter and later on WeLoveAnnArbor, the focus was on local news, local sports and local, local, local. We saw a void, an opening, an opportunity.

We not only saw a lack of coverage, but I experienced the reasons why first-hand. After decades of covering local news and sports in such awesome communities as Dexter, Chelsea, Saline, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dearborn and all over Downriver, I was made redundant (British for fired). Made redundant means “your employer tells you to leave because your job is no longer necessary or because your employer cannot afford to keep paying you.”

My employer certainly could afford paying me and the dozens (hundreds, thousands) like me so it must be that they felt my job was no longer necessary. It was no longer necessary to cover local news – at least that’s what was written in invisible ink in the memo line of my severance check.

From Bloomberg: “Studies have shown that communities without quality local news coverage see lower rates of voter turnout. Cities where newspapers shut down have even seen their municipal bond costs rise, suggesting an increase in government expense due to a lack of transparency. More broadly, towns without serious local news coverage demonstrate less social cohesion, corroding any actual sense of community.”

So let’s get this straight – covering local news here in Washtenaw County was no longer necessary? That would have been acceptable if it wasn’t necessary because so many other people were doing it so much better. But that clearly wasn’t the case. And that’s because so many others like me at every newspaper and web site all over the country were meeting the same fate – something that continues to this day.

It really hit home last fall when I went to cover the Pioneer-Skyline football game. I marched up the bleachers and into the press box early so I would get a good seat. Turns out I didn’t need to be early. I was the only one covering the game. Pioneer. Skyline! Pioneer! FOOTBALL!!! And no other media was covering it?

When I was at the News-Herald (Downriver) back in the 1990s, we had a staff of four full-time writers and an editor. The five of us would go out every Friday night and cover a local football game. That’s five games we would cover and the rest we would gather information over the phone that night. We had a staff photographer and several freelancers who would go out and shoot games all over the area.

The News-Herald currently has one full-time (hard-working and outstanding) writer/editor/photographer. One guy trying to do the job that five used to do – and trust me those schools still love to be covered by the local newspaper.

From Bloomberg: “Building trust is a human-to-human endeavor. I’m worried we’re going to see an erosion of trust in local media as the number of journalists on the ground in local communities declines.”

The times they are a changin’ – and not for the better.

Local news in small town America is clearly on life support but some places are reaching for a second breath. There are a few web sites in the area focusing only on local news. The Saline Post and Chelsea Update do a great job of filling the void in those communities – full kudos to them! We are hoping to continue our commitment to local news in Dexter and Ann Arbor and even increasing our content over the next few months.

The numbers have proven that there is interest. The people of Dexter and Ann Arbor are speaking loud and clear – they want to read about the people, places, events and happenings in their community. Our readership started strong and continues to grow and with community support can be taken off life support and start running on its own.

From Bloomberg: “Executive editors at local news outlets across the country agree that there needs to be more economic incentives to cover their communities. At the local level, news doesn’t stop when the news coverage goes away. Somebody has to do this work.”

“Local News Is Dying, and It’s Taking Small Town America With It!

Not if we can help it!

 

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