Good News About News

For the past several years, I have shared my growing concerns about America’s information landscape. One of those concerns revolves around the fragmentation–and increasing partisanship–of national coverage, a process that has contributed to our polarization and corresponding retreat into those often-impenetrable “bubbles.”

The “Fox-ification” of national media sources has been widely covered. But there’s been another less recognized and very unfortunate effect of today’s still-robust (albeit often less credible) national news coverage: thanks to the collapse of local news, Americans have been living in a nationalized  information environment.

I’m not going to repeat the gloomy statistics about local news “deserts.” We’ve all seen them–and worse, experienced them. Thousands of local newspapers have simply disappeared, and others–owned by large, profit-hungry corporations like Gannett–richly deserve the appellation of “ghost newspapers.”

The lack of local coverage has had very negative consequences. It rather obviously facilitates political and governmental corruption–after all, if no one is looking…But the negative consequences go far beyond the shenanigans of local and state poo-bahs. The lack of a common source of information erodes the bonds of community, the sense that those of us who occupy a particular geographic subdivision have both common concerns and sources of pride–that we are “in it” together.

Which is why I have been so gratified to see several new entrants into our local news desert, and why I was absolutely thrilled when I heard, at a recent gathering, that yet another is on the horizon.

As the Statehouse File  (a Franklin College product) reported:

Local news coverage is beginning to thrive in Indiana with several online news organizations taking root and a new newsroom to be opened by the end of the year.

VOX Indy and Chalkbeat Indiana hosted a panel Tuesday in Indianapolis that highlighted these changes in Indiana’s news market while discussing the future of local news.

The panel discussed nonprofit outlets emerging in Indiana and what this emergence portends for media consumers. As panelist Karen Fusion put it,

“I believe, and national research shows, that journalists and local news help connect people to their communities and help support our democracy,” said Fuson. “With such a significant decline in journalists, I believe information that we all need to live our day to day lives is not being provided to us. And so that, in my mind, is a crisis impacting our democracy.”

I am particularly enthusiastic about the planned Local News Initiative and the promise–noted by all the panelists–of collaboration among these recent and planned media outlets. The Local News Initiative (which will probably launch under a different name)  plans to go live later this year. It’s a new nonprofit–it was formed by a coalition of locally based organizations working with the American Journalism Project, and its mission is to provide residents with accessible local news that reflects the community’s needs. Indiana organizations and philanthropies raised $10 million to create it.

The need for the Initiative was shown in a comprehensive study done by the American Journalism Project. The study found that ‘more than 1,000 Hoosiers across 79 counties said they needed more unbiased, fact based information about their communities’ according to the Indiana Local News Initiative site.

The goal of the American Journalism Project is to fill gaps in local news by launching nonprofit organizations, facilitating investments in partner news organizations and fostering collaboration between local news outlets.

Fuson said the Indiana Local News Initiative is committed to making communities feel heard. This means implementing the feedback Hoosiers give by creating a news room that represents the population, having reporters out in the community on a regular basis and including residents wherever possible.

The commitment of the philanthropic community evidences a (somewhat belated) recognition of the absolutely vital role that local news plays in the building of healthy communities. The emphasis on collaboration between outlets (including the IndyStar, WISH-TV, WFYI, the Recorder, Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism, Chalkbeat Indiana, Hoosier State Press Association, The Indiana Citizen and several others) is especially important, because building genuine community requires people who are occupying the same reality–and that requires swimming in the same information pool.

My inner Pollyanna (yes, I do have one!) came away from that presentation looking at the bright side of the wrenching changes that have doomed so many local “legacy” news organizations. These new media providers don’t need to buy paper or enormously expensive printing presses, don’t have distribution costs, and apparently won’t require advertising dollars to support their newsrooms. They can focus their resources on reporting.

Maybe flowers will bloom in the desert after all….


  1. Several groups must be looking to fill the gaps in Indianapolis and then Indiana because I spoke with a different group called City Bureau. The most important aspect of these entities is editorial control, especially if they are looking for philanthropic donations to stay alive. Relying on Eli Lilly isn’t exactly a neutral source.

    We already have a public radio news network supported by the oligarchy, which has failed in its mission of a free press.

    Most meetings are live on Facebook now, but that doesn’t give us the behind-the-scenes scoop that a journalist can reveal. That’s what we are missing in Indiana and across the country. Why are our representatives voting this way, and who is behind this project or program?

    Readouts by the government are mainly propaganda, and so are public meetings. We need people peeking behind the curtains so we can make informed decisions. The devil is always in the details — not the shiny image presented to the public.

    Generally speaking, the oligarchy, whether Chamber or private philanthropist, does not want the public to see the real deal, so they move within the darkness.

  2. “The commitment of the philanthropic community evidences a (somewhat belated) recognition of the absolutely vital role that local news plays in the building of healthy communities.”

    Local news is vital not only in the “building of healthy communities” but is also vital keeping residents aware of the unhealthy elements in communities. I receive regular E-mail reports from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department regarding registered sex offenders who have moved into the area surrounding my small neighborhood; I am also tracking two specific offenders I have a personal interest in and am notified of their whereabouts. I recently spoke with one neighbor regarding an issue on our street and learned of a few crimes in the area I had been unaware of. There is only one entrance/exit into this neighborhood which consists of four streets; it is changing in racial balance which is good but everyone seems to stay behind closed doors. It is also reverting to families with young children who are rarely seen outside playing; no one feels safe not knowing who our neighbors are. We are surrounded by many and various businesses but unaware of conditions unless there is a crime, usually a shooting, reported on local news.

    “…building genuine community requires people who are occupying the same reality–and that requires swimming in the same information pool.”

    Not everyone has access to online news outlets; there is a NEED for printed news delivered to our homes at reasonable rates. For a city the size of Indianapolis to no longer have quality printed news is shameful and local newscasts report some issues as they happen but the outcome gets lost or missed if we miss a broadcast.

  3. Everytime i walk thru a store I see the economic impact of failed policies gripping our community. 80/20 beef at $4.89 per pond when it was $2.00 not too long ago. Overspending in the federal government mixed with us being too conservative on the local level. Hoosiers aren’t getting a break. Vox Indy? Ouch!
    We don’t need their beand of politics they call journalism

  4. Please tell me that they have found a way to either work around or counteract the algorithms that social media have in place.

  5. Lester – the article you linked is only able to report on the ‘registered’ lobbyists. There isn’t a way yet to know what corporations and wealthy individuals spend to get what they want from the legislators.

  6. Judging the performance of local, state or federal government by the price of beef shows a real information gap in how the price of goods and services are set. Conditions over which those entities have no control, weather, diseases, conflicts, who has control over resources, transport, etc., all impact what we pay.

    Indiana taxes goods (gas) at higher rates than other states around us, all while sitting on a huge budget surplus. The tax on gas will go up again on July 1.

    What does the state have to show for it? Shiny new signs at our borders? Bridges unsafe, pavements deteriorating on highways, water, air and soil quality more and more polluted due to underfunded/understaffed enforcement, closed amenities at state parks that have all gone unaddressed in any meaningful way? Public schools underfunded as taxes go further and further into private religious control?

    People don’t even know what day their trash gets picked up on after a Monday holiday. They don’t watch what passes for local news and distrust national news for good journalism. Local reporting is about “entertainment” and the ever-rising number of shootings not only in the cities but very often in rural areas. Most watchers have an almost complete disconnect from the communities where they live and work.

    I read the Capital Chronicle and the Recorder often for reporting on what goes on behind the scenes in the statehouse and local courthouses. Chalkbeat and other news sources covering the everyday erosion of community are not flashy enough to build on the constant need for entertainment and distraction by the general public.

    The slight of hand involved in stealing our eyes and attention while our foundations are being systematically eroded makes us all rubes, ripe for the grift. Without regular transparency and public interest the slide to fascism becomes more slippery every day.

    Charles Moran, President of the Log Cabin Republicans, was interviewed on NPR yesterday afternoon. The link to the interview is below. It was shocking to listen to the rationalization as he defended most of the 500+ bills introduced across the states’ legislatures targeting LBGTQ+ citizens using the language of parental rights and grooming tactics. By his estimation, more than a third of voters favor these tactics. At one point in the interview, he dismissed the characterization of Moms For Liberty organization as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center as questionable due to their use of misinformation and distortion of facts. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

    The general public knows little to nothing about either of the organizations mentioned above. The lack of attention and even mild interest in knowing about them at all makes our future ripe for the plucking. Take a look at TX and FL. It is where we are heading in Indiana at breakneck speed.

    I don’t know how to engage those who have no interest, to penetrate the bubble around them. It has almost as if it has become a matter of pride in willful ignorance to announce that “I don’t do politics”. Politics happen every day whether we are paying attention or not.

  7. I wonder. How can we share enough of the same reality without stifling creativity of thought and dissent? Or, to put it another way, how do we keep propaganda out of the information pool without destroying free speech? Or, how can we share enough of a common reality to build healthy communities (and a healthy country) while making room for revolutionary thinking?
    These questions occurred to me as I thought about how, in the Middle Ages in Europe the church was the shared reality.
    If multiple outlets cooperate that could have either good or bad results depending on whether they wind up becoming one monolithic source or maintain their independence. Whoever provides the funding is bound to have an influence on how the outlets are operated. Whether that funding is private, public, or subscription based, money talks.
    Just some things to think about…and allow for when building a new system.

  8. I wonder if there is a connection between the nationalization of news and the emergence of Republicans who focus on more local politics? They operate out of the spotlight that way.

  9. This is good news indeed. I live in Redmond, WA and enjoy the weekday issue of The Washington State Standard ( ). This new publication adds depth to coverage of regional news by The Seattle Times and Spokane’s Spokesman Review.

    Indiana has a sister publication on-line called The Indiana Capital Chronicle.

    These state publications are part of a national network: While not all states are covered yet, the number is growing and they add to the message that Sheila published today.

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