During a video interview earlier this semester, I was asked the question: “Why is local journalism important?”
It took me a little bit to figure out what the best answer to that question was and even required me to do some background research.
As a journalism student, I always think of major newspapers and networks such as NBC, Fox, The New York Times and The Washington Post as being the primary sources of information. But local newspapers are just if not more essential.
However, access to local news has become harder, especially when the 24/7 digital-first era meets a global pandemic. This has led to an increase in news deserts across the country, fueling job losses.
According to the U.S. News Deserts website, since 2004, the U.S. has lost one-fourth of its newspapers including 70 daily newspapers and 2,000 weekly newspapers. There were about 9,000 newspaper companies in the U.S. in 2004 and that number decreased to 6,700 at the end of 2019. The website said there are 200 counties in this country that don’t have a newspaper or a reliable source to provide accurate information.
The pandemic has only made this situation worse.
According to The Washington Post, the first month of the pandemic saw numerous furloughs, layoffs and closures of newsrooms all over the country, during a time when people needed re
liable information more than ever.
Newspaper editors and reporters are the ones responsible for building trust, building connections and providing credible facts for their communities. They particularly have an impact on residents in smaller communities by informing them about what’s happening in their towns and explore how national issues are hitting them close to home.
The decrease in local journalism goes against the First Amendment guarantee of Freedom of the Press.
Without a local newspaper, a community loses access to their news. No regional news means people are unaware about political decisions made in their town, no live coverage of events, no breaking news, no investigative or long term articles and no basic information to help citizens get through the week.
Declining coverage of state and local government leads to more polarization, fewer candidates running for office and higher municipal borrowing cuts.
Especially during the last year, it feels like there has been more news than ever before and the role of journalism in our democracy has proven even more vital. Local journalists have played the role of notifying the community about how the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustice and elections have impacted them.
As a staff member of The Brown and White and journalism major, it is difficult to imagine how any town can survive without local news.
The Brown and White has given me the opportunity to cover a Lehigh football game, feature students and community leaders, interview students and residents at the polls for the 2020 election and so much more. It’s mind-boggling that there are certain communities that unfortunately don’t have access to football game coverage, feature stories on their local leaders and up to date on key political races in their area.
The question from the video interview made me appreciate the role The Brown and White, other regional newspapers and myself have had on the university and Lehigh Valley communities.
Until that interview, I had never really thought about the significance of a reliable local news source. It feels like we are surrounded by news every single day and just knowing what is happening in my city and across the country keeps me sane.
But at the same time, there are certain authoritarian countries that either do not keep their citizens informed or restrict the news from being published.
It has been challenging for many newspapers to adapt to this 24/7 digital-first journalism era, but that shouldn’t mean people are uninformed about what’s going on around them.
The news is not something that should be restricted to anyone regardless of where they live. The news is what makes democracy thrive.