Today’s big idea is that local journalism outlets are a crucial piece of democracy. Journalists for local papers attend town hall meetings and school board meetings and zoning meetings and committee hearings and THEN THEY REPORT ON THEM. If the government or other entities that serve the public are up to shenanigans, or not fulfilling their duties, journalists are who bring that to light, and who report the full spectrum of a story and not just what one side wants people to know.
You’re reading the transcript of an episode of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.
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Local journalism outlets also provide an important forum and a big mouthpiece for people to share their views .Op-eds and letters to the editor are big ways that regular people can sound off on issues in a forum that leaders and everyday people alike will see.
There is plenty of research that shows that strong local journalism encourages more people to participate in politics, strengthens the government’s ability to make decisions that benefit its constituents, and builds a sense of community.
Over the past 15 years, the United States has lost one-fourth of its local newspapers
2,100 publications in all have ceased publication. That means hundreds and hundreds of communities no longer have reliable sources of local news and information.
The primary reason for this is that the internet has siphoned away the advertising and classified ad dollars that funded newspapers. Papers have struggled to find new revenue streams and to enter the digital age.
I know it’s frustrating to see an article being circulated on social media but then you go and click on the link and you can’t read the article because it’s behind a paywall. I do. But if advertising is down and people don’t pay for a subscription, how will the paper make money?
I was sharing links to articles about a local race for state senator with friends of mine, and none of them had access to see the articles because they weren’t subscribers.
I did go and copy and paste the articles into an email that I then shared around, but I also said, y’all, if we want this paper to continue to exist, more than one of us has to subscribe. Otherwise we won’t have these articles that we’re all so interested in to read. I’m sure I was the Debbie Downer of the group that day but hey, we all need reminders to do the right thing from time to time.
Once I was driving down my street which has a fairly big hill. By the time I got to the bottom of that hill, I was going way over the speed limit. A neighbor was working in her front yard and she yelled, Slow down! And at first I felt horribly embarrassed but then I realized, she was right. I tell you, I never speed down that hill anymore–because sometimes we all need to be called out. But I digress.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment for today is super simple. It is to go and subscribe to a local newspaper, and/or to make a recurring donation to your local public radio station. It’s money that benefits not just you, but your entire community. Think of it as a tax you pay for something that improves your life and strengthens the collective.
If you only have the budget or the stomach to subscribe to one newspaper, make it a local one. Honestly, the New York Times and the Washington Post are probably going to do just fine without your subscription. But you need to know what’s happening in your own community because that is where you both spend most of your time and money and where you have the most influence.
Of course, it’s also important to support your local public radio as they also do a lot of coverage of local events and policy discussions and investigative reporting.
Papers have sales on subscriptions all the time, so you can wait for a sale if you like. And public radio has pledge drives where sometimes your donations are matched, or they’re giving away a free gift. Again, it’s fair to wait for these opportunities so long as you act on them when they’re here! But if you find an article you really want to read and hit a paywall, I recommend getting out your credit card and signing up. It benefits us all.
While you’re at it, you can also go follow reporters at your local news outlets on Twitter
That way you’ll be able to follow a story as it develops. Reporters will also often ask to talk to someone who is directly affected by a story they are following, so it can be a chance for you to share your point of view, too. I really think Twitter is vital for staying informed, although of course it can be a very snarky place and there is misinformation available there, but the algorithms don’t seem as geared toward showing you things that upset you–if there’s someone you’re following who’s sharing content you fundamentally disagree with on the regular, you can unfollow them, and if someone is snarky or menacing with you in any way you can block them.
You can also get to know the people who are covering your town, city, and state and that helps you feel more engaged in the stories they’re telling and remember that journalists are people, too.
I suggest following reporters from a range of publications
Those with both a conservative and a progressive bent as well as more mainstream outlets, so you can start to see how different points of view influence reporting and you can be a more discerning reader of news.
You can search for the outlet’s name and then click on people to see a list of the reporters who work there, as reporters typically list the name of the paper they work for in their bio.
And finally, and I know I’m pilling a lot on you here but I need to hear this message too — if you’re a business owner, go find out how much it costs to advertise in your local paper. You’ll help the paper stay in business AND you’ll reach people who value local journalism and know it’s important to a functioning society and democracy. And don’t you want those folks to patronize your business? It’s a win-win.