Thursday, June 9, 2011

Local Media Is Suffering

I grew up on the North Dakota side of the Bison-Lemmon metroplex.  My family listened to KBJM Radio 1400 and read The Bismarck Tribune along with a local weekly.  In my increasingly unreliable memory, the media covered local issues fairly well.  Apparently, local issues now get short shrift.  According a New York Times article,
An explosion of online news sources in recent years has not produced a corresponding increase in reporting, particularly quality local reporting, a federal study of the media has found.

Coverage of state governments and municipalities has receded at such an alarming pace that it has left government with more power than ever to set the agenda and have assertions unchallenged, concluded the study, which is to be released on Thursday.
Quoting from the study, the Times reports,
“Breathtaking media abundance lives side by side with serious shortages in reporting,” it said. “Communities benefit tremendously from many innovations brought by the Internet and simultaneously suffer from the dislocations caused by the seismic changes in media markets."
I have a few quick observations.  First, I am aware of the irony of quoting the New York Times to discuss local issues.  Second, the report illustrates a need for blogs such as The Madville Times, An Inland Voyage, and  David Lias's blog.  Third, South Dakotans may complain about their local media, but for the most part, the local daily and weekly newspapers seem to cover most of the official government meetings.  They probably don't do as much investigative work as they should, but situations like this example from the NYT article probably don't happen.
In researching the report, he and his staff interviewed scores of journalists to develop a fuller picture of the state of media. What they found was sometimes alarming. At one newspaper Mr. Waldman [author of the study] visited in Tennessee, he recalled, he asked an editor about a list of story ideas that was posted in the newsroom.

“There was one up there that said it was about the regulatory board that dealt with incompetent doctors. And there was a little red X next to it. I said, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘Well, we’re not doing that one.’ ” The reason the editor offered: the paper used to have two reporters assigned to cover that area, and now it had only one.
Finally, the larger problem may be we media consumers who have lost all sense of place.  Front Porch Republic observes,
Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing.
Perhaps, the problem is a little simpler than that.  Little attention is paid to human flourishing. Each of us have started to view everything and everyone as a commodity.  The economy might be terrible, but James Carville's famous maxim should probably be rephrased to state "It's the relationships, stupid."  That personal connection should create demand for increased local coverage.


Anonymous said...

After 30 plus years of covering local issues, school board, city, county....its hard to get the public engaged unless they see a direct impact, usually higher taxes. Then the pitchforks and torches come out, and sides are chosen. After the short, usually brutal battle and ensuing election, we go back to the normal pattern on very little involvement from the public. Broad brush I know, but its just based on my experience.

yanktonirishred said...

We are very lucky as a State and community to have the newspaper coverage that we do. Two dailies (P and D and Argus and a weekly (Observer) gives us multiple view points of the news. Add in the multitude of very well informed blogs (you can even pick your political leanings), super competent radio newscasters and the added bonus of getting Sioux City and Sioux Falls public newscasts and I would say that Yankton is very spoiled when it comes to the news.

Growing up in Flandreau, we had the weekly advertising paper (Booster) the weekly news (Enterprise) and we got the Sunday paper. Every thing stopped at 8:43am when the Flandreau News was done on the Brookings radio station. We had 4 TV stations and channel 5 (KDLT/Mitchell) rarely came in so really we had 3. I suppose there was "blogging" of a sort as the city crews and county crews met for coffee at The West Inn cafe or Prairie Junction. Or when the ladies met for coffee and rolls at the bakery. News was spread quickly out of those public forums.

Like much in our lives I think that the "news" is taken for granted until we want so desperately for it to reflect our viewpoints (See local opt out) or to deliver us news that we actually want to hear.

I don't watch the news...I find it all too slanted, but I read 3 dailies and one weekly on line, a plethora of blogs and some national news sites.

I do though miss sitting down with the paper in the morning, the smell of newsprint and the crossword waiting for me at the end.