All news is lo­cal

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

There used to be

324 news­pa­pers in the state of Penn­syl­va­nia.

To­day, there are about 60, give or take a few.

The Penn­syl­va­nia

Gazette is the first one on record not just in the colony of Penn­syl­va­nia but in all of the Crown’s colonies. Ben­jamin Franklin bought the pa­per with a part­ner in 1729, and he contributed to it, as well, mostly un­der aliases.

Among the many firsts the plucky pa­per would print was the first po­lit­i­cal cartoon in Amer­ica, “Join, or Die,” au­thored by Franklin. It also printed the then-trea­sonous texts of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the Con­sti­tu­tion, Thomas Paine’s “Com­mon Sense” and the Fed­er­al­ist Pa­pers.

It was bold. It was brash. It was opin­ion­ated. And it served its read­ers well.

Here in West New­ton, only ghosts re­main of its once “es­teemed” Times-Sun; their first of­fice along the rail­road tracks car­ries only a faint trace of its ex­is­tence on the side of the build­ing.

When owner James Quigley Wa­ters Jr. died in 1930 after run­ning the pa­per for 34 years, lo­cal pa­pers noted it widely. When it was forced to close that lo­ca­tion nine years later, it was noted only by an ad in the Pitts­burgh Press for the sale of the Times-Sun build­ing and its presses.

Sev­eral decades later, the Times-Sun ex­isted on Main Street as a weekly. All print ended in 2015, and all that is left now is a shut­tered of­fice on Main Street.

There rarely is a proper obit­u­ary for old news­pa­pers, noth­ing to chron­i­cle their cov­er­age of town events: how the school board was caught in a cor­rup­tion sting; how a lo­cal politi­cian was caught tak­ing cash in a bag; and how the town ral­lied when flood wa­ters crested the banks of the Youghiogheny or when the train de­railed.

It just dies.

Along with that death comes the death of the lo­cal re­porter: the per­son who knows his or her com­mu­nity inside and out, a ca­reer that typ­i­cally starts with the cops beat or the lo­cal school boards, the places where a re­porter re­ally gets to know the pulse of their home­town and their peo­ple. Who knows how the town ticks. Who knows where the bad guys are, both on the street and be­hind a podium.

Who knows fun­da­men­tally that all news and pol­i­tics is lo­cal.

Good jour­nal­ism is not glam­orous. It’s not sexy. It means long hours; it of­ten means no per­sonal life; it means driv­ing on ru­ral roads where there are more deer than peo­ple or down al­leys where the state of the bod­ies you see out­lined with chalk be­hind yel­low tape will haunt you for­ever.

As with ev­ery­thing in this coun­try, au­toma­tion and tech­nol­ogy have erased many jobs for re­porters. The dig­i­tal age opened up a world where ev­ery­one could have a blog, and none of them had three lay­ers of ed­i­tors fact-check­ing them.

That does not mean they don’t still do this in New York or Washington. It’s just that these days they do it less in the rest of the coun­try.

News­pa­pers are ex­pen­sive and bleed money: The abil­ity to make money left with the dawn of dig­i­tal, and no one re­ally fig­ured out the se­cret sauce to help small towns sup­port lo­cal news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Two weeks ago, Bob Schi­ef­fer cited a statis­tic that showed jour­nal­ism is thriv­ing only in the ge­o­graph­i­cal seats of power on our coasts, not­ing that 1-in-5 re­porters live in New York, Washington or Los Angeles.

That ge­o­graph­i­cal re­align­ment means that Amer­ica’s rep­utable news out­lets are run by peo­ple who have never likely cov­ered or un­der­stood the lives of many of their con­sumers.

Not only are there few cul­tural touch­stones be­tween the news de­liv­erer and the con­sumer but also there are of­ten no news sto­ries that are crit­i­cal to the con­sumer. It’s not merely all pol­i­tics that are lo­cal; all news is lo­cal. And if there is no trust in that re­la­tion­ship, peo­ple go else­where — such as Face­book and Twit­ter, where they only con­sume “their” side of the news, not be­cause they are un­in­tel­li­gent but be­cause they don’t trust the national news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

When those news re­porters re­port on church at­ten­dance or gun own­er­ship, nei­ther side holds the same val­ues. Who in D.C. or New York goes to a “Gun Bash”? In the West New­tons of the coun­try, plenty of peo­ple do.

There is no good an­swer here; heck, there isn’t any an­swer. But there is a peek into what has deep­ened our di­vide.

And there is also a re­minder that all so­ci­eties need lo­cal jour­nal­ists. They are the ones who keep power in check.

Salena Zito is a CNN po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and a staff re­porter and colum­nist for the Washington Ex­am­iner. She reaches the Every­man and Every­woman through shoe-leather jour­nal­ism, trav­el­ing from Main Street to the belt­way and all places in be­tween. To find out more about Salena and read her past col­umns, please visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­page at www.cre­


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