Why We Need Journalism

Given the tensions in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, it was a relief to receive news of the  guilty verdicts in the Ahmaud Arbery trial. Those verdicts owed much to a vastly more competent prosecution–and there has been widespread recognition of that fact and praise for that prosecutor.

What is far less widely recognized and celebrated, however, is that the trial wouldn’t even have occurred had it not been for a local reporter.

Larry Hobbs is the crime beat reporter at the Brunswick News, and he covered the initial story, which was pretty bare-bones. He got his information from the local police:: a burglary suspect had been shot and killed in Satilla Shores, a subdivision outside Brunswick, Ga.

The next day, a Monday, Hobbs managed to get Arbery’s name from the coroner and included it and a few more lines in a followup story. Then he wrote about the close involvement of district attorney’s office investigators in examining what happened, and about official silence on whether the incident was being investigated as a possible homicide or case of self defense. Those were the first of many stories Hobbs would write about the shooting on Satilla Drive in February 2020, an event that would go on to seize national attention. He fit that work between other daily news, his column and a crime blotter he writes….

Hobbs’ reporting ultimately played a major role in getting larger news outlets—and eventually civil rights groups and state law-enforcement agencies—interested in digging into what had happened. Hobbs and his many questions produced work that, while he himself admits it wasn’t always perfect, served a critical need. Now, almost two years later, with Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan having been convicted of murder and other charges, the weight of that role is clearer than ever, and at a moment when the future of local news reporters and newspapers is in jeopardy.

If Hobbs hadn’t been part of a local newspaper covering local news–if he hadn’t been “doing journalism”– the original prosecutor’s conflict of interest and actions covering for the McMichaels might never have come to light. When we talk about the “watchdog function” of journalism, this is what we are talking about.

As the Washington Post Magazine wrote last week in a special issue,

The state of local journalism is widely, and correctly, understood to be grim. About 2,200 local print newspapers have closed since 2005, and the number of newspaper journalists fell by more than half between 2008 and 2020. In many places where papers still exist, a lack of resources prevents them from reporting thoroughly on issues vital to the community — issues like public safety, education and local politics.

Yet what is missing from these raw facts — depressing as they sound in the abstract — is a detailed sense of what, exactly, is being lost: the local controversies, wrongdoings and human-interest tales that are severely underreported or entirely untold.

The Post devoted the entirety of its Sunday magazine to stories that had been under-reported–or in several cases, not reported at all. (Some had been previously covered by outlets that are trying desperately to preserve a market for local journalism against long odds;  others were reports that were seeing the light of day for the first time.) All of them deserved “more space, scrutiny and attention than they have previously received.”

I have previously posted about the continuing loss of journalism. Those of us bemoaning that loss are not talking about the loss of newsprint–the loss of physical paper. That is immaterial. We are talking about the loss of journalism, which can certainly be delivered digitally. As the Post reminded readers, in the last 15 years, a quarter of U.S. local newspapers have ceased publishing. Not just ceased producing newsprint–ceased publication. “By 2020, out of the 3,000-plus U.S. counties, half had just one local newspaper of any kind. Only a third had a daily newspaper. Over 200 counties had no newspaper whatsoever.”

And that doesn’t even count the places like Indianapolis that do, theoretically, still have a newspaper–places where corporate ownership (in our case, Gannett) has decimated staff and eviscerated coverage, leaving communities with what are called “ghost” papers.

The Post used its special issue to remind readers that we don’t know what we don’t know–and a lot of what we don’t know is important.

When we lose local journalism, we lose a fabric that holds together communities; we lose crucial information that allows democracy to function; and at the most basic level, we lose stories that need to be told.


  1. It is easy to criticize our local “ghost” newspaper. Anyone with a twenty year plus memory can join that game. But where is the hard look at local TV news coverage… or should I say soundbite news? Where are their reporters? Where are their in-depth reports on our state and local government? On where the tax money is going, and from where the campaign contributions are coming from? Apparently funds for such reporting goes instead to the wardrobe expenses of the look alike, usually blond, long haired, breathless lovelies who want you to think that they actually know what they are saying.
    It isn’t “local news”. It is a daily hour and a half of “Chamber of Commerce” news.

  2. The WaPo, a Bezos’ rag, talking about democracy and journalism is quaint. The irony isn’t lost on this journalist who was told yesterday by an employee of the Republican administration currently running the community that there are only three credentialed news sites in our community.

    Needless to say, this was news to me as a journalist who’s been in this community writing about the demise of the news and why for over a decade. My brand of journalism wasn’t “credentialed.”

    Now, this employee of our city government came from Indiana Public Radio which was listed as one of the “credentialed news entities” along with the Gannett-owned newspaper, and a radio-owned Chamber outlet that publishes stories for writers.

    I know of at least three other news sources that weren’t listed. You would think that someone from the “news industry” would know about journalism or the freedom of the press. This should be an interesting exercise.

    You can point your finger at any number of the symptoms that have caused duress for the free press in this country, but they are just consequences. Some would call it karma while others would call it reapings. 😉

    The free press traded in its power to be the Fourth Estate to make money. Instead of being the Fourth Branch of Government, it chose to be a media company for the oligarchy. Pure and simple.

    Without the power of the free press, it is nothing more than propaganda for the oligarchic institutions including government and industry. The free press today or journalism is taught at the colleges and universities is digital storytelling. They are taught to spin the story for government and industry.

    This is called public relations — NOT investigative journalism. They’ve created an industry of bullshite artists and propaganda spreaders.

    Without their power, they are dwindling and dying. It was a consequence of their choice to place profits over serving the people. The journalistic entities serve the oligarchy just like the politicians do. It’s why our country is so messed up and divided.

    The truth-seekers bailed. Our government cannot even seem to pass a law to protect whistle-blowers or journalist sources. Why do you think Julian Assange is being tortured and Edward Snowden fled to Russia?

    Wake up, y’all.

  3. Todd is mostly right today. I worked for one of those small-town papers that went out of business even after winning state journalism awards for the best op-ed page for a small news outlet in the state of Texas. Not bad. Proud of my contribution.

    Yes, the oligarchs – like the egregious Murdochs – have co-opted real journalism for the bottom line. Notice the brief wording. Where will it end? I have no idea, but I doubt it will change in the few years I have left.

    The case in Brunswick, Georgia is, in a way, an echo of the distant past when white people killed black people with impunity. Today, the rest of the country is horrified. In the old South it is just another day at the office. Burying the lead for white-on-black crimes has always been there in regions not yet liberated from the scourge of overt racism. The people in those areas still don’t believe that the Civil War was about slavery. How they twisted that outcome remains a mystery to everyone except those true believers.

    Yes, this is why journalism is so important. We will never move away from our worst history re-enacted today, until these ugly cases are ferreted out and exposed to the light of day. But that exposure will have to be national, because in the closed minds of certain regions, murder or mayhem by white people against black people will still be considered normal.

    Oh, and watch how much money comes pouring into the coffers of the three murderers for appeals. I predict it will be in the millions of dollars. It won’t matter how good the prosecutors are. All that matters to certain people is how they can protect their own kind.

  4. What does the fall in readership say about this? Perhaps it’s a chicken-egg question: did low subscription rates cause the financial pinch that led to loss of quality or did loss of quality lead to low subscription rates? But, almost all the young people I know rely on digital news blasts for their information. These don’t come from local journalists nor do the bring in revenue to support them. Public choice of information sources is a huge part of the problem.

  5. The brutal combination of predator Capitalism, the Big Fish swallowing the Little Fish was at work. The bottom line became all important and the small fish could be gutted for assets like local investigative journalism.

    The Indianapolis Star became a prime example after Gannett purchased them. Prior to the purchase The Star had a Conservative bent. After the purchase Sports and that new restaurant or bar in downtown Indy or in some northern suburb replaced New sand investigative journalism.

    Controlling the content was another part of the equation.

  6. It’s sad, but I don’t see any way to fix this issue. If nobody buys a product, even one as important as a local newspaper, it can’t prosper.

  7. How will journalists deal with this Crumbly family situation and our most recent school shooting?

  8. When I was young it seemed to me there was quite a distinction between a profession and and their clients. A profession implied that the person had knowledge that could be used for good or evil, that that knowledge was beyond what most people chose to learn in that field, and therefore a level of trust had to exist between the professional and their clients. In some cases, state licensing and oaths, and internal professional ethics boards were used to make sure that the trust was credible.

    Given the explosion of human knowledge in all fields since then, and the ability of tools like computer networks to manage that knowledge, the distinctions between professionals and clients are even greater today. Yet there are whole swaths of the population who are unable to trust experts.

    The Arbury family was victimized by the three perpetrators, and initially, the legal profession but, in the end, they were served by the profession of journalism.

    Why? Are our current problems centered among professionals or clients and to what degree?

  9. I saw on the local news that 2 nights ago we had 6 shootings in Indy. No one that I can see is reporting on the increase in gun violence in our city and what is causing that increase. I wonder how much of it is related to gang and/or drug trafficking in our city.

    I also wonder if any journalist would be brave enough to explore the loss of mental health and addiction treatment centers and how it has led to the increase in violent crimes and gun violence. I wonder if anyone is looking at how the pandemic is affecting the lives of people in our state.

    We really do need investigative journalists all over the state who become watch dogs over our elected officials in every single county. We also need brave journalists who are willing to look at the lobbyists in our state legislature who are affecting policies and laws that are passed. We need someone who can find out how dark money is influencing our local politics.

    No journalist can do this work without compensation. It makes me wonder if any entrepeneur could create a local digital news outlet that could employ investigative journalists from all over the state.

    Mr. Hobbs is a hero. I thank God for him.

  10. Smut sells,

    Never before in the history of mankind have We been able to communicate as we do now. Everything is so connected, and the howl of free speech has individuals peddling conspiracy theories that get to everyone instantaneously. The more vile and controversial the more interest. The more pandering to the gullible the more interest.

    There will never be the muckrakers of old. You’ll have A few here and there, In the long run, they will go the way of the dodo bird. Why do the work? It’s easier to make it up or report half truths as a complete story. When those who report the news use artistic license, well, you can see the result! I have to agree with Todd on his take.

    People are vile because the VIPs they follow are vile. People are ignorant because the VIPs they follow are ignorant. People lie because the VIPs they follow lie, and they see it work!

    An article in the Saturday evening post from September 1986 noted that “the problem of lying touches businesses, government, education, entertainment, and the simple day to day relationships between fellow citizens and neighbors. We’ve bought the theory of relativism, The single big lie that says there are no absolute truths.”

    We have had the luxury of witnessing the effect of habitual lying. It really does Catch on quickly. The volume or cascade of lies became an avalanche of deception. All people need is a permission slip and a reason to lie. Unfortunately, That’s the majority of humanity and not in the minority anymore. When the religious leaders join in the deception, Wholeheartedly, No one can see any wrongdoing in telling the lie.

    After all what do we expect? We’ve been raising up our children to believe lies from birth. The Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Just to name a few, teach the young ones how to lie and make it seem that Is nothing wrong with it. The dogma of a burning hell and eternal damnation, also purgatory and let’s not forget limbo. Lies that people have heard from their birth, it seems that the saturation point has been reached and we are now at a point of no return.

    Most of our celebrities are vile, most of our Religious leaders are vile, Most of our politicians are vile, So then how could society not be vile? And, I’m not picking on us, because the aforementioned is in every part of this globe we live on. History tells us the outcome, and, by my old buddy Mike Burns, he used to say everyone is pulling the sheep over their face, lol! That’s even worse than pulling the wool over your eyes. When the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the pit!

  11. Here in Tucson our remaining daily print newspaper is the Arizona Daily Star. It’s owned by an outfit called Lee Enterprises (which is partially owned by Gannett) and publishes around 46 daily newspapers in other (mostly) medium sized cities around the Country. Just received notice yesterday that the print subscription rate is being increased next year to $85 a month (approximately $3 an issue). Also just informed there will be no print editions for 3 days over the coming Holidays.

    That being said, although that Lee has already sold off all of the Daily Star’s physical property here in Tucson — now renting office space, sold its printing presses — now printed in Phoenix and trucked back to Tucson, and having laid off a large portion of its staff and reporters, the Daily Star –IMO– still does a fairly good job of reporting on the local news, local government, and even the State government. The only reason I continue to support it through a print subscription.

    But it appears likely that all that will be ending soon. It was announced this week that a “Hedge Fund,” Alden Global Capital, is trying to take over Lee Enterprises (Alden apparently already owns a small stake in Lee). Alden Global Capital, if you haven’t heard of it, is notorious and referred to as being a “vulture” for buying out local newspapers around the Country, including the Tribune Publishing, Denver Post, and gutting them; turning them into “Ghost Newspapers.”

    Apparently, Lee Enterprises hopes to hold Alden off for another year (there may be some way it can prevent Alden from owning more than 10% of Lee stock next year). I guess that would be a small temporary “victory.” Lee has already milked the Daily Star of most of its capital assets. So, the only thing left to cut even further are its remaining employees. Pretty sure I will be cancelling my subscription if (when) that happens, and it will be a sad day for Tucson. And another sad day for local journalism.

  12. Malignant Capitalism will be the end of Journalism, unless, like the craft breweries that are perhaps beginning to replicate what
    brewing was like before Prohibition, more, and more, small outlets find a way to open and survive.

  13. True journalism brought us Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down Richard Nixon’s White House and “All The President’s Men” which is the history of that era.

  14. I am not a full time journalist but was until I retired.I wrote for a Medical paper and was not shy about criticizing modern medicine .Now I write many letters to the editor.as I always did.But since I wrote about the narcicism of our current leadership, there is no publishing me in the past ten years! Out of sight out of mind!Canadas medical system is a mess, not because it
    is government controlled,and we do not have enough schools,or doctors . Shame!

  15. News sources and journalist are so important today. Fake news sources (Fox) create -news?) are a blight on the country.

    It’s always refreshing to read James Briggs in the Indianapolis Star. The kind of reporting missing in so many papers.

Comments are closed.