All over the country, news agencies are dropping like flies and corporate layoffs have become a reality of the industry.
Meanwhile, editors are moving away from original sourced stories opting instead, to have reporters summarize articles from other news sources or copy and paste press releases.
Coverage of city council and county commission meetings have been eliminated in most newsrooms with watchdog journalism traded in for coverage of car crashes and stories that bait readers to click.
Investigative reporters have become an endangered species as corporate overlords demand quantity over quality.
The focus on clicks to sell advertising has flung us backward to the era of Yellow Journalism, when sensationalism was king.
Polls show trust in the press at an all-time low. And fake news is now a thing.
The digital age has transformed the media landscape revolutionizing how people consume their news and contributing to the decline of news agencies across the country. But nowhere has been more negatively impacted than rural America and local news agencies where reporters tend to lean more heavily on fact-based reporting.
If these newsrooms haven’t been gutted, they’ve closed their doors.
A report published in 2016 by journalists at the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied the local news industry over the last decade, offering a grim look into the future.
The report highlighted the important role local news publications play in their communities.
“By some estimates, community newspapers provide as much as 85 percent of “the news that feeds democracy” at the state and local levels. This means the fates of newspapers and communities are inherently linked. If one fails, the other suffers,” the report states. “Therefore, it matters who owns the local newspaper because the decisions owners make affect the health and vitality of the community.”
In the absence of the press, there is a disconnect that occurs between the public and their elected leaders within smaller communities contributing to a cycle of disinformation among the citizens. Corruption is allowed to flourish and the “good ‘ole boy” system often prevails. Pervasive issues that might rise to the surface in, say, Iron or Beaver County, never do; the state press that is almost entirely clustered on the Wasatch Front is never alerted.
As an alternative, more people have begun turning to Facebook, YouTube and Google. But even these questionable sources of news are beginning to be affected as the corporate CEOs in Silicone Valley works overtime to censure what the public sees, hears and reads on the internet.
Not having reporters visible and part of the community also makes it easier for the public to demonize journalists. All of a sudden, reporters begin to seem just like politicians — distant, out-of touch with middle America and part of the privileged class. The reality is though, reporters in small towns are just as much a part of their communities as the citizens they write about. Their kids go to the same schools and play in the same sports, they vote in the same elections, their families eat at the same restaurants, attend the same churches and shop in the same stores.
There is no doubt that the news industry needs an overhauling. But the near-eradication of our country’s news infrastructure has a serious impact on our democracy. As the Framers recognized, a free press assists in exposing corruption and gives people the information they need to be active citizens in their communities and government.
Repairing and supporting the architecture of the news industry should be high on everyone’s agenda beginning with local media outlets. Think along the lines of “Shop Local,” but in relation to the press the slogan might be “Support Local News.”
Behind the Headlines is committed to rebuilding the news infrastructure within Iron County.
In turn, we need your support to help us bring you the news and information that will empower you to be more actively engaged citizens within your communities.
Here are some ways you can show your support for local news and Freedom of the Press.
1. Subscribe, sponsor, donate and/or advertise
Become a stakeholder. Good journalism is impossible without your support. When you think about where to put your dollars, consider supporting Behind the Headlines. You can do this by either subscribing to our website, donating, advertising your business with us or sponsoring a special investigative article.
For the first 15 advertisers that join us, besides your advertising space on our site, your name will appear on a special Founders Page that will recognize your support of local news and a free press. In addition, we will proudly wear your business name on the back of our t-shirts. Oh and… we promise to keep your advertising costs the same no matter how long we are in business or who is running the country.
We also welcome donations. By clicking on the Buy Me a Coffee button you can donate up to $100 or you can use the Donate link underneath it to donate more via Paypal. Donations are really appreciated as it helps with the little things we enjoy while we’re sweating away to bring you the news — like food and coffee.
These are the most important things you can do to help support your local news and the Freedom of the Press.
The bottom dollar is the biggest reason corporations cite for pulling news agencies out of rural areas as they struggle to meet the financial demands of running a newsroom i.e., making payroll, funding great investigative journalism, legal costs associated with fighting for records and meeting the overhead demands. If you want local news, you have to be willing to support it — that’s just the facts.
2. Participate in media yourself, responsibly
Contribute op-eds and letters to the editor.
When you share news stories on social media make sure they are reputable news outlets so that you don’t contribute to the vicious cycle of disinformation. If you do share something that turns out to be “fake news,” delete it. Then follow up with a comment about why you deleted it. Hold your reporters and news agencies accountable.
Also, consider integrating journalism into the work that you do. For example, if you are an educator, think about how you can use news in your curriculum. Have reporters come into your classroom and share their knowledge and experience.
If you have a service or professional group in the community, invite a local journalist in to speak. They love people and they enjoy talking about what they do. This also gives the public a chance to get to know their journalists and ask them questions about the business they may not know or understand.
And of course if you’re a businessperson, you always have the option of investing in a news company or you could even try your hand in starting one yourself.
3. Read and share original-sourced work, not aggregations
In today’s world of digital news, there are many “reporters” and websites that regurgitate news from journalists who actually do the work. They have no qualms about slapping their name on someone else’s article that they have simply rewritten and summarized. These are called aggregate news stories. When you share them, you give clicks to those websites that aren’t doing the original piece. The clicks translate to revenue for those websites that poach the information from reporters who work hard behind the scenes cultivating sources, gathering facts and data and interviewing people to write their stories
I can’t stress this enough — please take the time to share original-sourced stories rather than sharing a story that aggregates or summarizes news. Sometimes, you get lucky and a link to the original piece is embedded or placed as a credit line in the summarized story. This ensures that the reporter and news outlet that did the work gets the benefit of the clicks.
4. Support the work of journalists everywhere
There are national organizations that support journalists all over the world with such things as: funding for independent journalism, legal issues and fees, education, training, mentoring and investigative work. Please consider supporting one or more of these organizations with a donation.
The Investigative Fund
The Investigative Fund’s mission “is to produce high-impact investigative reporting that holds the powerful accountable. We seek to bring underreported stories to light, cultivate diverse journalistic talent, and create a home for independent journalism that serves the public. We are dedicated to enabling independent investigative reporters to produce deeply reported journalism for a wide variety of print, broadcast and digital media outlets.”
This Fund provides reporters with editorial guidance and financial support necessary to do the expensive work of investigative reporting. This helps fill the gap in watchdog reporting across the country.
The Society for Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund
The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 7,500 members; works to inspire and educate current and future journalists through professional development; and protects First Amendment guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Press through its advocacy efforts.
It takes money for journalists to hold government accountable. SPJ “collects and distributes contributions for aiding journalists in defending Freedom of Speech and Press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
The Columbia Journalism Review
CJR is “the most respected voice on press criticism, and it shapes the ideas that make media leaders and journalists smarter about their work.”
Committee to Protect Journalists
“Every year, hundreds of journalists are attacked, imprisoned, or killed. For more than 30 years, CPJ has been there to defend them and fight for press freedom.” It is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide by defending the right of journalists to report the news without fear of any repercussions.
The News Literacy Reporting Project
The News Literary Reporting Project is a national education nonprofit that works with educators and journalists to teach middle school and high school students how to sort fact from fiction in the digital age.
Economic Hardship Reporting Project
Similar to the Investigative Fund, but its focus is on poverty and economic security. Founded by Barbara Ehrenreich, the project aims to change the national conversation around these issues and put a human face on financial instability. The project commissions narrative features, photo essays and video and places it in renowned news publications such as The New York Times, MSNBC, and Slate.
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