Why the Absence of Journalism Matters

In a recent column for the Washington Post, Rachel Maddow highlighted why the presence–or increasingly, the absence–of local journalism is so critical. And by “journalism,” I don’t mean puff pieces about local celebrities, or articles about the best way to take care of your ingrown toenail, or “reporting” on new shopping or dining venues.I mean reporting. Journalism. As Rachel wrote:

If it weren’t for the dogged local press corps, Christie would still be ridiculing this story,attacking the legislators investigating it and persuading most of the national press to dismiss it.


The bridge story is still unfolding. But the pattern of how the scandal came to national attention is familiar.

When Connecticut Gov. John Rowland was still denying the allegations of corruption that would ultimately force him out of office, his wife read a poem (to the meter of “The Night Before Christmas”) mocking Hartford Courant reporter Jon Lender at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting:

“When out on the yard there rose such a hub-bub,

I thought maybe Jon Lender had jumped in the hot tub.

Now surely that man needs to go soak his head,

but there on the lawn stood Santa instead.”

Lender didn’t jump into anything, but he did stay on the story, and the aforementioned hot tub turned out to be one of the illegal gifts that would send the governor to prison.

When then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was not hiking the Appalachian Trail but visiting his mistress in 2009, reporter Gina Smith from the State newspaper drove 200 miles to be in the Atlanta airport at 6 a.m. as Sanford got off his overseas flight. His ruse thus unraveled.

When Mayflower, Ark., learned the hard way last March that an aging ExxonMobil pipeline ran under it, the Arkansas Times’s dogged reporting included a crowd-funding effort to pay for its reporters to team with journalists experienced in covering pipelines to get to the bottom of what ExxonMobil did and whether other communities with buried pipelines should feel protected by existing regulations.

Most of the time, national news happens out loud: at news conferences, on the floor of Congress, in splashy indictments or court rulings. But sometimes, the most important news starts somewhere more interesting, and it has to be dug up. Our democracy depends on local journalism, whether it’s a beat reporter slogging through yet another underattended local commission meeting, or a state political reporter with enough of an ear to the ground to know where the governor might be when he isn’t where he says he is, or a traffic columnist who’s nobody’s fool.

Here in Indianapolis, since Gannett acquired our one remaining newspaper, coverage of the statehouse has dramatically diminished, and coverage of city hall has pretty much gone missing.  About the only way citizens can gauge how well–or how poorly–Mayor Ballard is doing is by how long the snow remains on the ground and how many more people got shot overnight. (Local media does report on the kinds of overt criminal activity that don’t require investigation.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m curious about all the stuff we don’t know.

I miss having real news.



  1. Another good example of this is historic. Look at all the satellite cities: East St. Louis, East Chicago & Gary, All the northern New Jersey Cities, Newport and Covington all have had strong institutionalized crime that permeated the entire community. No strong local press to expose the corruption it goes unchecked and becomes the rule rather than the exception.

  2. The Indianapolis Star, with it’s recent “improvements”, is a prime example of the NEED for local journalism. The Star is now owned by Gannett, who recently purchased USA Today, so they include a daily mini-USA Today section. Everything local is crammed into Section A; local news briefs, crime reports, Op Ed section, classified ads, local business ads and the obituaries. Except, on weekends the obituaries are contained in the “Things To Do” section. I don’t consider attending the viewing/funeral of a deceased family member or friend to be a source of entertainment. A few months ago the obituaries were actually published in the Sports Section! Sports Section is separate and there is often a full section of Colts news. Some days Section A comes in two separate sections with continuous page numbering. Whether Section A is in one or two parts, it is a condensed version of city and state news and all else contained in daily newspapers. We, the subscribers, are at a disadvantage because the Indianapolis Star/Gannett has a monopoly on daily local news in print form. When have we had available in this newspaper, full access to important city and state news on all issues effecting us? We learn too often the actions of local politicians after the fact and actions of politicians on the national level are now in the mini-USA Today section so we don’t get full disclosure on these issues. I am curious about the stuff we don’t know and, like Sheila, I miss the real news.

  3. “If it bleeds, it leads.”
    I know why people think crime is so bad…because that’s all they see on the news anymore. Mug shots and police vehicles with their lights going. The crime rate has actually gone down and is at historical lows but the people are misled to believe that it’s a daily issue because of the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ news programs. We try to ignore the local news because of that and just watch national news.

  4. I hope everyone who laments the decline of local news — particularly print media — is paying for subscriptions to what local media we do have and is patronizing local businesses instead of buying from Amazon and other corporations who don’t advertise locally.

  5. to me it is a circular thing. Having been a paper boy as a small child in a previous century (I carried the Star, Times, and News at the same time) I like newspapers but there just isn’t anything in the Star except the Fry’s ad. I read the WSJ and the Christian Science Monitor (WSJ since 3rd grade, CSM since 8th grade) I rarely see the one dollar Star worth getting, although I do get the one dollar discounted price Sunday Star at DollarTree often (it is there all week). Less paper, more money, circular and downward.

  6. I forgot to mention in my earlier message that I now pay an extra 25 cents to get the TV Week for channel listings, which are frequently incorrect. For a few months it was not stapled together; the reason I was given was that their staple machine was broken.

    I just returned from a harrowing trip to the doctor from 16th and Arlington to Mitthoeffer and East Washington Street (between 9:45 am to 12:15 p.m.) – not one sign of any street having been plowed or salted. We saw not one DPW truck or plow or evidence they had passed through; did see two spin-outs by slowly moving cars on straight roads. This includes Arlington, 16th, 10th Shadeland, Washington, Post, Franklin, Mitthoeffer and my daughter-in-law who drove from 2600 South Franklin Road to my home said all roads were barely passable – including Brookville Road. Let’s see if local journalism will report the truth about road conditions at this time. On Tuesday after the 10.7 inch snow on Sunday, Erica Smith reported what a wonderful job the city had done clearing streets. She stated that 60-65% of neighborhood streets had been cleared. She obviously doesn’t understand investigative journalism because the trip between my home and my son and daughter-in-law’s was treacherous on Tuesday evening and on the return trip on Thursday at noon. They had to rescue me after my powr went out. Are we to believe newscasters on local TV, journalists in the Star or our lying eyes?

  7. AgingLittleGirl- Violent crime has decreased nationally but is actually up in Indianapolis. Not sure if you live downtown but there really is a homicide about every night it seems.

  8. Tip of the hat to MSNBC host Steve Kornacki, who broke the national story about Hoboken’s mayor. Steve got his start in journalism as a reporter for NJPolitics.com, so had the local knowledge and connections needed to get the story.

  9. Back in the late 1970’s I moved here from Chicago. The Chicago Media of that era was a raucous but were Professional Journalists who were not afraid to challenge Mayor Daley “The Elder.” Mike Royko and Len O’ Connor, two journalists in Chicago both wrote books critical but fact based books about Mayor Daley. After reading The Star and listening to the News I came to the conclusion our local press here in Indianapolis was down right servile to the political and business interests in this city.

    The Star practiced what has now become known as Press Release Journalism. A press release by Goldsmith or other Mayors was treated as undisputed fact.

    As Joann Green pointed out in an earlier post a gushing article by Erica Smith on the wonderful job of snow removal in front of her residence and simply quoted City Officials on how well the snow removal was going in the rest of city. Erica, must not have driven the streets I did such Michigan Road, 79th or 86th Street to see the horrid job of snow removal.

    The Star today is bit of news most of which seems to be taken off the “Wire” but mainly dedicated Sports and advertising.

  10. Rusty: No thankfully, I don’t even live in Indiana anymore. I went from one red state to another and found no newspaper worth buying. I do shop local and eat local, when possible. I have a few friends in small business but they don’t live around here. Thanks for asking.

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