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The Counter Opinion: Why local newspapers matter

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America has a local news crisis. From 1998 to 2017, local newspaper circulation has plummeted 50%, taking it with it thousands of jobs and folding dozens of papers. As a publication that focuses on local politics, we at The New Political believe strongly in the importance of local news. We asked our opinion writers to discuss why local reporting is so important.

Contributing to this piece are freshman journalism major Charlotte Caldwell, sophomore political science major Maddie Kramer, sophomore environmental sciences major Katie Nolan, and junior journalism major Tim Zelina.

Charlotte: Local journalism does a lot for the community it is centered around. These journalists are better equipped to cover stories that impact local cities on a daily basis because they are aware of the economic status of the cities they are covering and know what the public wants to hear about. Even though most Americans believe that local reporters are doing a good job at reporting the news accurately, a couple of things could be different in the relationship between newsrooms and the public. These changes need to be made to continue to make local journalism the best for its community.

More communication needs to be conveyed to the public about the financial status of local media. Employment has fallen in local newsrooms over the past decade, yet 71% of people believe that local media are doing well financially. Despite the support for the content that local media produce, the public is still not offering to fund these sources. If local media have to shut down because of a lack of resources, then some cities will not have access to topics that national news can’t cover, like crime, weather and local government.

Some local media need to find a balance between covering urban and suburban stories and covering rural stories. Only 30% of rural Americans say that local news media has a lot of influence on where they live. This is mainly due to media consolidation, which causes local stations to cover big headline stories possibly out of the local range. These cities are concerned about whether the journalist is personally engaged in their communities, not whether they can read a pre-made script off a prompter from their parent company.

Both the public and local media need to do more to bring local journalism back to its former glory. Reproducing the same story in different areas and diminishing staff gives local journalism less of a watchdog feel that is important when informing local residents on topics they would otherwise have no knowledge of. The public need to start recognizing how important local journalism is in this way.

Maddie: Even though Athens is a small town, the love for local journalism is prevalent. Between student publications such as The Post, The New Political, Thread, Backdrop, Variant and Fangle, as well as local news such as the Athens Messenger and the Athens News, many students and locals utilize these sources. Athens’ support of local journalism could be credited to the fact that the Scripps School of Journalism is continually recognized for being one of the best journalism programs nationally.

The presence of local journalism, especially on college campuses, is very important. When a big event disrupts the Athens community, I have often heard students saying they saw an article regarding it. This is extremely important during a time when social media delegates what news younger people see. This is why it is good to see local journalism and news sources using social media to educate people on what is going on in the community.

When delfin bautista was removed as the Director of the LGBT Center, both student publications and local news organizations covered the story and its developments soon after. The news broke in early January, as students were returning from winter break and getting used to a new class schedule. Without local journalism, it would be very easy for this story to get lost in all the other things going on at the beginning of the semester. Local journalism using both social media and just their active presence on campus created an environment where students were knowledgeable about the situation.

Local journalism in Athens is critical in keeping students informed on what is going on on campus. It provides information that may not seem pertinent to those covering state politics but that can affect local citizens. It is admirable that Athens has a community that is very supportive and appreciative of local journalism and promotes a culture where local journalism thrives.

Katie: Local news has a direct connection to local activism, especially environmentally. The easiest and most proactive way to work towards a sustainable lifestyle is to act locally, and local journalism is the best way to discover what actions are needed. From sustainability tips, to the restructuring of environmental services in a city, to the recognition of local sustainable businesses, local journalism keeps people in the know.

Local news in Athens is particularly important for people attending Ohio University trying to make an impact. The restructuring of the Sustainability Offices at Ohio U would not have been as promoted and celebrated without promotion from local news publications written by students. Promotion leads to awareness, which leads to interaction with students on a more frequent basis.

In terms of climate change action, civic engagement is directly tied to interaction with local news. One example of this in the Athens community is DivestFest, put on by Ohio U students annually. Divestment is a popular climate change action initiative, encouraging businesses and universities to retract their investments in fossil fuel companies as a sign as protest against excessive pollution and extraction. Promotion of events like this encourages student turnout, and therefore successful climate events.

Tim: Everyone’s been talking about America’s stark political divide. We all see it: the vitriol on Twitter, the inability for even families to peacefully discuss politics, and our national leaders slinging mud at each other. It’s a distressing sight for anyone concerned about our democracy, and the factors behind it are complex and not entirely clear. But if there’s one thing worsening our political divide that we, as individuals can change, it’s the death of local newspapers.

A few weeks ago, I was treated to a lunch roundtable with two Tampa Bay Times reporters with a long history of journalistic experience. We spoke about the concerning decline of local newspapers. During that conversation, one of the reporters told us a story of a woman she encountered in a supermarket.

The woman was a daily and avid reader of one of the local papers. She approached the journalist and mentioned that she loved perusing the local paper because it made her think about issues she never even knew existed. A tsunami in Japan, a corruption crisis in Bolivia; these are the sort of stories you can find flipping through the pages of your local newspaper, but that you would never research on your own.

This doesn’t quite occur when we consume our news through Twitter or Facebook. There, the algorithms pick out the news it thinks we want to enjoy and discards the rest. Don’t click on stories about what’s going on in your local city council? Facebook will make sure you never see them on your feed again.

As convenient as this may be for fast entertainment, it’s deeply damaging to our political discourse. The world is at our fingertips, yet restrictive algorithms used by tech industries have only furthered our isolation, trapping us in an endless cycle of what we want to hear. It’s made us bitter, partisan and self-assured, never allowing us to challenge our preconceptions or open ourselves to new perspectives.

Local newspapers break that cycle. No, they’re not perfect, and sometimes a local newspaper can be a very poor source of news depending on its staff. But they force you to open your eyes and at least glance at stories you might never otherwise encounter. While the algorithms will hide that story about a controversial donation to the mayor’s account because it might not interest you, you can’t help but read the headline when flipping through a local paper. Readers of a local newspaper can also be assured that their community is being informed together, whereas most Fox viewers would never watch CNN, and vice versa, leading to information bubbles.

Local journalism is important for many reasons, but bridging our political divide is one critical to sustaining a healthy democracy. If you’re looking for a way to do some good, subscribe to your local paper. You just might save the nation.

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