Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Libraries step in where local news presence declines

In some places where local news presence is declining, public libraries are stepping in to fill the vacuum. "It makes sense that librarians would get it right. Librarians understand the value of accuracy. They are familiar with databases. Americans by and large trust librarians, actually much more than they trust journalists," David Beard reports for The Atlantic. "And in a nation where traditional local news outlets are cutting back, their advertising coffers drained by Google and Facebook, their ownership increasingly by hedge funds or other out-of-town enterprises, where else can a citizen go? In some communities, the questions are basic: Who will sift through and list the best events so residents could decide whether to participate? Who would understand what makes an area distinctive and would get its history right?"

Sometimes a library's role is informal, as happened after a 2012 school shooting in a small town outside Cleveland. Author Marilyn Johnson said the town library's Facebook page was the best place to find detailed breaking news on the shooting. Sometimes it's more formal, like when Weare, N.H., librarian Mike Sullivan volunteered to write a weekly newsletter after residents complained that nobody knew when local events were happening. And some libraries are partnering with established local news sources to create and distribute news.

"To be clear, libraries are no silver bullet to everything that ails local news. Sullivan's New Hampshire weekly won’t break investigations like The Washington Post," Beard writes. "Libraries, with most of their funding dependent on local officials, aren’t a natural source for government-accountability stories. But library-backed efforts can help restore the foundation and appetite for local news—the love of community, curiosity about it, confidence to participate in it."

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