Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pulitzer chair discusses need to strengthen local journalism; we say audiences must help

Joyce Dehli
"Many post-election observers have lambasted the national news media, the so-called coastal media elites, for missing the breadth of support for Donald Trump among white working- and lower middle-class voters living outside of major urban-suburban areas," writes Pulitzer Prize Board Chair Joyce Dehli, for Nieman Reports. "Such criticism obscures a more important point. The stories of disaffected citizens in rural areas and small cities have been simmering for years, largely untold by local news organizations."

And it is local journalists who must tell those stories, writes the former chief news executive for Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises: "Journalists from big coastal news media, with a few exceptions, have never done a good job of covering people in the vast middle of the country," she writes. "I know this well from decades of living and working as a journalist in Midwestern states as a reporter, editor, and vice president for news for a company with dozens of newspapers in small and mid-size cities across the country."

Dehli, a fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, continues: "Newspapers, the backbone of local and regional journalism, have cut thousands of reporters and editors in the past decade, greatly diminishing their capacity to consistently and deeply cover residents’ lives and their political institutions, from school boards to state legislatures. We still see some superb local journalism. But even the best local newspapers struggle to fully and meaningfully cover their communities on a daily basis — work that, over time, reveals a community and a state to itself and its leaders."

Such work doesn't come cheap because it takes time, Dehli reminds us: "It requires attentive listening to diverse sources, dogged examination of data and other records, and close observation of government at work. It takes time and skill, and requires on-site support of editors and other news leaders who live in the community and care about it. It does not guarantee publishers a return in eye-popping digital audience numbers."

She concludes, "The question is: What can be done to strengthen local, professional journalism and tighten its connection to communities? It’s an important question for all U.S. journalists, not just at newspapers, and for the nation as a whole. No matter the tactics we pursue, our starting point must be an affirmation of the importance of deeply reported, professional local journalism as an essential force in our democracy."

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, says the audience must play a role, by subscribing to news outlets, either in print or online. He put the message on a bumper sticker:

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