In Celebration of Local News
Last week, in writing about Facebook’s latest efforts to invest in local news, I referred to a recent report by University of North Carolina professor Penelope Abernathy on expanding news deserts. That report found that about 1,300 U.S. communities have completely lost news coverage as more than one in five newspapers have shuttered in the past 15 years.
It also found that many of the nation’s remaining 7,100 newspapers have essentially become “ghost papers” — little more than advertising supplements. Half of the 3,143 counties in the United States have only one remaining newspaper, and most of those are small weeklies.
That being said, I feel like it is important to spend a little time celebrating some of the vibrant local reporting that is still taking place across the nation. As an absolute news junkie, there are a number of ways that I keep up with important local reporting, the quality of which never ceases to impress me.
One of those is Local Matters, a weekly newsletter from Investigative Reporters & Editors, which rounds up some of the week’s best investigative local reporting. The content is culled largely from front-page stories published by more than 100 daily newspapers in all 50 states.
The most recent issue included a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about at least a dozen diabetic people booked into Georgia jails who suffered painful deaths from the treatable condition after staff skirted federal guidelines and failed to provide insulin. Another story from the Florida Times-Union exposed real estate developers who backed away from plans for $36 million in public incentives after reporter Christopher Hong exposed their quiet penchant for welching on deals and stiffing contractors.
Each week, Local Matters showcases 10 to 15 stories.
Additionally, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies — a non-profit school for journalism which owns the Tampa Bay Times — typically releases a weekly roundup of exceptional reporting from local news organizations around the country. A recent roundup featured a link to reporting by Oregon Public Broadcasting which tracked jail deaths in the northwest United States and found a crisis that had gone unnoticed as a result of poor tracking.
Another report by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting found that, 63 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, segregated classrooms still persist in one Mississippi school district.
The Poynter update included links to more than 20 other fantastic stories which I may have missed had they not drawn my attention to them.
Another great resource is ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, which supports the work of local and regional newsrooms in their pursuit of major investigative projects. The project currently supports reporting for 14 news organizations, and plans to add six more in July. As new projects are published, they are shared to the ProPublica website as well.
One recent story examines how a baby’s death in Rhode Island may prompt the state to offer enhanced training to 911 operators. Another reveals that two Indiana police officers are facing federal charges after being caught on videotape beating a handcuffed man.
In other “local news” news, 30 Oregon news organizations have joined forces for a project chronicling that state’s suicide epidemic. Most of the work for the project, called “Breaking the Silence,” was published and broadcast April 7-14, and is available at www.breakingthesilenceor.com.
Despite the challenges facing local newsrooms, there is every reason to celebrate the fantastic local reporting that continues to take place across our nation. One just needs to know where to seek it out.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 04/18/19