As a boy I listened by radio to static-crackling accounts from frontline journalists recounting how the war was going. Today, riveted or titillated, we view reality real-time on smartphones.
That’s international journalism. What about the hometown brand? The Guardian last month published “Here’s why local journalism must find a way to survive.” The story describes how a regional paper demonstrated the value of local reporting. Lamenting “the slow death of newsprint and the hollowing-out of newsrooms,” the Guardian explained “why we must find a way to ensure the survival of local editorial teams.”
Remember the Moscow City Council elections, the Pullman Regional Hospital bond issue, the Third Street bridge brouhaha? And what about the back-and-forth about climate change – and myriad other topics?
Without the Daily News, we would have known little about the first three unless we’d encountered opinions of neighbors, colleagues and friends, or paid advertising/publicity about some issue.
Daily News reporters covered these topics. Editors offered their views in editorials. Opinionated letter-writers and columnists, including this one, enlivened discussions across a broad spectrum of viewpoints.
The Daily News offers highlights from national and international news. The internet provides access to in-depth exploration but doesn’t provide local news. Stories in the Daily News range from college pranks to criminal offenses, accidents and deaths on the Palouse.
Reports of local events and groups are faithfully chronicled – civic-minded organizations, environmental and conservation groups, human rights and ethnic awareness folks, all working to strengthen the democratic process that allows us to choose our leaders. And don’t forget libraries and faith-based organizations helping us learn and improve ourselves.
Without our local newspaper, news of those organizations and events would survive only through advertising and word-of-mouth. In a recent front-page commentary headlined “Trust and truth: We are all in it together,” publisher Nathan Alford outlined some of his vision for our local press.
“Our aim is to make things better with words and ideas,” Alford wrote. That’s a pretty pragmatic goal. But the point I most related to was, “We won’t always agree … (but) we have much more in common than (what separates us).”
One of my favorite truisms is, “none of us is as smart as all of us.” If trustworthy reporters relay reliable information, it’s a beginning toward making informed decisions. Thoughtful, well-written points of view on the opinion page further contribute to shaping those decisions.
Alford also mentioned growing tensions between government officials and national news media. Recently an NPR reporter was excluded from covering a U.S. cabinet member. In the UK, an aide of the prime minister banned selected reporters from attending a government briefing. In response, political journalists boycotted the briefing.
One expects these kinds of tactics in dictatorships. It’s troubling to find them in two of the world’s strongest democracies.
“The rest of the journalists decided to walk out collectively,” the Guardian reported, “rather than allow Downing Street to choose who scrutinizes and reports on the government.” One member of parliament said, “Press freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy and journalists must be able to hold the government to account.”
Alford’s vision is positive: “Our towns and civic leaders have a history of always finding a path forward.”
Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post columnist, emphasized how important this is, given the tumult of government and politics. “The dire state of the local newspaper industry may seem minor,” Sullivan wrote, but “local watchdog journalism matters.”
In the past 15 years, “more than 2,000 local newspapers – mostly weeklies – have gone out of business,” she said, noting “local news sources are relatively well-trusted.”
The Guardian concurs: “Local news is often trusted more than national news but it is highly vulnerable to online disinformation.”
The problem was encapsulated well by a reader of another newspaper: “After years without a strong local voice, our community does not know itself. … We are a nameless and faceless town defined only by neighborhoods.”
We need to “be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age” we live in and center our “deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” Without a local newspaper, that’s pretty hard to do.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.