It was great to celebrate 140 years of serving the community this past month, but we are all too aware that after 140 years, people tend at times to take the Herald Democrat for granted.
I’ve spent some time recently reading “Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions.”
This is a lengthy report by PEN America that, among other things, calls for a rethinking of local journalism as a public good, rather than a commercial property.
Now, as noted before, Lake County has had one or more media outlets dedicated to its local news since 1879. We hope that we are the trusted source of local news, but we can’t say for sure that is universally true. For example, we know that the commentary on local Facebook swap pages serves as news for some community members, whether from a trusted source or not. True or not. Rational or not. This is unfortunate.
What is really true is that the health of any community is tied to its local news. Local news outlets are more trusted than the national outlets, in most cases. This could be because most readers can quickly spot the difference between honest reporting of local events and fake news. The local press and informed local citizens operate in the same sphere.
In places where local news goes away, studies show that citizens are less likely to vote, less politically informed, less likely to run for office. In these circumstances, you run into situations where people are voting for, as an example, someone who attended high school with them or someone else who used to work with them at the mine. When asked, these voters are hard pressed to articulate what the candidate’s platform really is. Sometimes even the candidates have a problem saying what they stand for.
A local newspaper keeps an eye on how government operates. If an elected official displays a lack of integrity, chances are the local paper is the only entity that points this out.
If government becomes corrupt, the local newspaper might be the only way that the truth is revealed to the majority of citizens.
The PEN America report talks of losses in ad revenue, loss of newsroom staff, the number of newspapers that have simply shut down.
One fact did surprise us. According to the PEN America report, a recent study found that just 17 percent of stories in local news outlets were about local communities. That is not true of the Herald Democrat, where almost 100 percent of our news is about this community. And, we might say, where stories aren’t just given one shot in the paper, never to be heard of again.
We don’t know what the solution is. The PEN America report suggests expanding public funding for local journalism might be one answer.
At the Herald, we know that our special publications, such as the popular “Heritage Guide”, do much to keep our bottom line healthy.
But our local news coverage is still the most important thing that we do. And we’re convinced that it plays a role in helping this community thrive.