One of the ways in which newspapers are responding to the challenges of the internet age is by concentrating on coverage of their own communities. Dubbed “localism” or sometimes “hyperlocalism,” the approach makes a lot of sense: let readers get their national and international news from the New York Times, the Guardian, and other sources easily accessed through the web, and concentrate on providing information about one’s own home town.
The Indianapolis Star –like many other papers–has announced that it will concentrate on local coverage, “stories you can’t get elsewhere.”
This approach will only work, however, if the newspaper does actual reporting. Local coverage is not simply printing press releases sent in by new restaurants that are opening. It isn’t just “galleries” of local homes and their decor. It certainly isn’t the same links to stories about the Super Bowl and how to lose weight that appear on the newspaper’s website for a week.
Earlier this year, I discontinued subscribing to the Star. After 50 years. What would make me change that decision, and re-subscribe, would be genuine local coverage: school board meetings. Library board decisions. Real, in-depth coverage of the Mayor and City Council.
During the last year, the Ballard Administration and its partisans on the City-County Council engaged in deal-making that may or may not have been improper. The Star hasn’t covered most of it. Even when they have, the coverage has been superficial–“he said, she said, I guess that’s all, folks.” The IBJ recently reported that the city was building a parking garage in Broad Ripple, paying for its construction with our tax dollars and then handing it over to a developer who formerly worked for the Mayor. The developer will be entitled to all the profits. I’d like to know how the administration justifies this transaction, but I saw no reporting about it at all in the Star. (Maybe I missed it, but if so, it certainly wasn’t highlighted.)
I saw little detail about the fifty-year parking meter deal–certainly not the analysis provided by local blogger Paul Ogden or regional urban expert the Urbanophile. Even when the paper did report on the Litebox fiasco, there was little reporting on the process that led the city to ignore huge red flags and hype an obvious con man.
These are just the deals we know about; in the absence of real reporting, how much more do we know nothing about?
The bottom line is that concentrating on local coverage can indeed save local news media–but it can’t save them the bother or expense of hiring and training real reporters. Giving us genuine news we can use to evaluate local institutions and politicians requires investigative reporting by trained journalists.
Going back to the days when small-town newspapers printed the school cafeteria menus won’t cut it.