The world of mass media is ever changing.
Some question if there is even a place for newspapers in a world full of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat and whatever other social form of media that will be popular in the next six months.
A conversation on Twitter last week, spurred in part by a mention of The Richfield Reaper on Fox 13’s nightly news broadcast pointed to the challenge newspapers face. One person tweeted a snarky comment basically saying why use local newspapers when you can get all the news on the Internet?
Except, no one from “the Internet” has ever shown up to cover a local news story as a professional journalist.
Car crashes, drug arrests, city council, county commission, libraries — no one from “The Internet” shows up at any of these things. In fact, more often than not, during local government meetings of any kind, it’s generally the newspaper reporters, the policy makers and no one else in attendance. Yet they are discussing things that affect everyone in the community in much more tangible and immediate ways than anything that happens in Washington.
The local paper is the only one attending these meetings, and is taking hours of conversation that most people would find boring and turning it into something concise and understandable. When they are doing their jobs, a journalist will do this in an impartial, factual manner. Sometimes this makes people angry, but if no one ever gets upset about a paper’s reporting, it’s probably not doing its job.
Of course there are people who post things on the Internet to one or more of their social media outlets in the vain hope of getting likes, re-tweets or comments, but that’s not journalism.
There are also those who use social media as a means to “report” on things, but again it’s not journalism as these people always have an axe to grind, an agenda to push or a grievance to air.
Journalism means sometimes asking hard questions. It means sitting across the desk of a sheriff, a mayor or other elected official and getting answers about difficult topics.
It also means setting aside one’s own opinions and preconceptions and sticking with factual information.
Many times this is why there is a contentious relationship between government officials and the press.
As much as people may like to think that because they follow the local agencies on Facebook, they are informed, they are not. Social media is a tool that can be used, but its not a substitute for reporters asking questions.
Many people feel they are informed by reading things on the Internet, but that’s becoming more and more uncommon. Instead of seeking out impartial outlets, people turn to commentary sites and cable channels that push political dogma. There is a comfort in being told that your side is right and the other is wrong.
Beyond the issue of people conflating commentary for news, when it comes to the Internet there is very little local news to be had.
People can read stories about President Trump online every day, but they often don’t know what is going on in their local government meetings.
Each year, there are lawmakers who try to remove legal notices from papers, or who attempt to chip away at open meetings law or the Government Records Access and Management Act. All of these efforts are designed to obfuscate the people’s business from the people.
The local press still fulfills a vital function in a community, as it is still the driving force for transparency in government.
It is also the only place that is consistently chronicling history and documenting the stories of the people who make up the community.