News deserts: bad for America

Save our communities and our country’s democracy: subscribe to a local newspaper and to a credible national/international news source.

As my wife and I trailer-travel about the country, I make it a point to read the local paper from the towns where we stay to see what the local concerns are and to see what the local journalism is like.

Local news is so different than national/international news (which has its own value).

Consider these headlines from the 29 Aug. 2021 Duluth News Tribune of Duluth, Minnesota:

     “Down on the Farm: Eveleth, Two Harbors families deal with drought, frost”

     “FDLTC [Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College] welcomes its students back to campus”

     “Candidates recommended for judge vacancy”

     “Meeting to address Lake Nebagamon fish future”

Or these headlines from the 16 Sep. 2021 Leelanau Enterprise of Lake Leeanau, Michigan:

     “Board to slash voter-approved funding”

     “County welcomes 7 Afghans”

     “Lake Leelanau Street Fair is a success”

No local news?
Local happenings, issues, flavors, and heroes: where would our communities be without local news? Local reporters, who know the region, get on the street, interview people, and report on what matters to us and our neighbors. Reporters process their stories through professional editors who separate the wheat from the chaff, who add writer and journalism art to the published product—and who, in the process, train a new generation of reporters for America.

Yet many local newspapers around America are dying. Advertisements—and the revenue they generate—have moved to the flashier, clickable, picture-filled digital world (a place where chaff and wheat are thrown together), and that’s bankrupting local newspapers and creating what are called “news deserts,” as quotes from this article describe: Charles M. Blow, “As the Press Weakens, So Does Democracy,” New York Times, 18 July 2021, No press, no democracy

            “Since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth — 2,100 — of its newspapers. This includes 70 dailies and more than 2,000 weeklies or nondailies.”

            “Today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues. Half of the counties have only one newspaper, and two-thirds do not have a daily newspaper.”

A phone in everyone’s pocket—the garbage flows
With a phone in everyone’s pocket, many people now spend hours sorting through stuff (is that not descriptive? sorting through stuff). Whereas print journalism evolved over years to become reputable and recognized news sources, with quality controls and management by news professionals, the digital world of information is akin to the days of medicine before the development of standards and licensure. Any snake oil salesperson can call themselves a healer on the web, or any e-distributor can slap the moniker “news” on their name, even when they don’t meet journalism standards—and we’re stuck trying to sort propaganda from facts. That’s if we care. Some people click the rumor forward with a “look what I found” flash of self-importance (and that will always happen), and so the misinformation mess grows. It behooves us to research the reliability of our daily sources before we invest our day-to-day reading time into them.


Hedge fund vultures
In these tough financial times for newspapers, hedge funds swoop in to scavenge what is profitable from the body and discard the unprofitable (but perhaps essential) parts of newspaper businesses. In laying off reporters and editors, consolidating newspapers, filling local papers with cookie-cutter national articles, and cutting local flavors and quality control, these hedge funds devour the meat and cause the body to collapse, so that the distantly produced, mass produced, perhaps agenda acceptable product becomes a shadow of the original on-the-street reporter’s investigative observations.

For us and our democracy, we need a credible free press.
America’s newspapers dying is our problem. We, as a nation, need to the fix the economic model that deprives newspapers of revenue, or we—in our local engagement—will be flying blind, or not flying at all. We’ll not benefit from thoroughly researched articles by reporters who’ve interviewed local experts on a topic. We’ll not hear the varying opinions as neighbors banty ideas about, via letters to the editor or through opinion columns, what they’re thinking and what they might know. We’ll not know in enough time to be involved in the process what our local governmental officials are doing, what community events are occurring, and, for me—an environmental advocate—what entity is planning to pave which parts of paradise where I live (though at present I’m a trailer-traveling explorer who is appreciating paradises where other people live). If local news goes away, we’ll not engage local issues, and we’ll not hear the inspirational stories of neighbors helping each other and improving our communities. News deserts are bad for America.

Our forefathers knew the criticality of a free press to our democracy, so they wisely enshrined freedom of the press into the first amendment to the constitution, and they set up a postal service to distribute to citizens, even in even remote areas, news and information. Democracies perish unless citizens continually work to preserve them—and keeping our press robust is essential to America’s democracy.

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State is working to preserve our free press during this time when the economics in a digital age are still being figured out. She and others are working to safeguard the jobs of reporters, editors, and others—who are so essential to the outflow of professionally created quality local news—so that we have an informed populace running our democracy. See Brier Dudley, “Sen. Cantwell on local news and keeping Americans informed,” Seattle Times, 30 July 2021, Senator Maria Cantwell strives to strengthen local news

What can you and I do in the meantime?
Subscribe to two news sources—one local and the other national/international (unless your local newspaper is one that already presents good national and international news). Besides learning what’s happening in our neighborhoods (and perhaps contributing to local discussions via our letters to the editor or by writing opinion columns), we can feel good that our subscription is both an investment in our community and an investment in our country’s democracy.

Reliability rankings of national/international news can be found at Ad Fontes Media (which describes itself as a “public benefit corporation with a mission to make news consumers smarter and news media better”), which is at https://www.adfontesmedia.com/ , and at The Factual, which is at https://blog.thefactual.com/most-objective-news-sources. I elaborated on both these sources in the these blog posts:

     2021-04-16 “Where to go for quality national news” https://michaelmaddoxconservation.com/2021/04/16/where-to-go-for-quality-national-news/

    
2021-08-18 “Update on where to go for quality national news”
https://michaelmaddoxconservation.com/2021/08/18/update-on-where-to-go-for-quality-national-news/

News deserts are bad for America, but you and I can keep journalism healthy and help our democracy flourish by subscribing to and engaging with our local newspapers.

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