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.
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….