The Value of Local News Coverage
With cries of “fake news” and Facebook-fed rumors hurtling around, it’s easy to take the value of local news coverage for granted. Or, it was until the pandemic came along.
As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I was used to keeping up with current events each day. Then in mid-March, along came so much “stuff,” whether via TV, internet, or print publications, that I got lost.
It got so bad that when weeks passed and someone asked about a particular reopening phase in another part of our region or the country, I usually replied, “I don’t care. I just want to know what’s happening in my state.”
There wasn’t just a surfeit of daily press briefings by the governors of the three respective states in our area. Things were changing so fast it seemed today’s caution was tomorrow’s old news.
Amid this cacophony of developments, I found myself turning to an old stand-by: the daily newspaper.
The one thing I could count on in our daily paper was relevant news coverage for our city and state.
One can go online and find more data about conditions across the nation, but try to drill down in a particular area and specifics get much tougher to find.
It isn’t just the local coverage that is so valuable. It’s the local press keeping an eye on local politicians and agencies that helps provide a check-and-balance on elected officials and those who work for them.
Yes, I know news media get things wrong, but they also get a lot of things right.
And one reason they’re so hated is the accountability they bring to the table.
Leaders don’t like accountability. They like to issue grand statements and spin illusions that everything is fine—until some pesky reporter asks, “But what did you do? What happened to all the tax money you raised last year?”
It’s little wonder their reputation is one cut below that of a skunk. Reporters are the ones with the guts to ask the questions lots of folks want to ask, yet are usually afraid to; they don’t want to appear to be “rocking the boat.”
Late last year, the New York Times did an eye-opening story about the closing of 20 percent of the newspapers in the country.
The result is a lack of coverage of city council and school board meetings, local sports and politics, and local government corruption.
Yes, it would be nice to pretend that if newspapers weren’t around, everything would be more peaceful. But chances are we would see more stories like the one from a decade ago, when eight officials in a suburb of Los Angeles were arrested for looting the city treasury to enrich themselves.
“The officials were accused, in effect, of turning this city into their personal piggy bank: misappropriating $5.5 million in city money to enrich themselves with pumped-up salaries, illicit loans and big payments to attend committee meetings that lasted just a few minutes, if they were held at all,” the Times reported back then.
Lamented one resident of a town in Massachusetts in the more recent Times story, “The checks and balanced afforded by (local papers) don’t exist, and it is only a matter of time before the potentially corrupt realize they will be able to get away with corruption more easily.”
So, snarl at the news media if you want, but realize that human nature being what it is, our country is much better off with reporters who aren’t afraid to ask embarrassing questions.