When I had my job interview with GateHouse, the editor-in-chief asked me why I thought local papers were important. My answer was, and still is, residents can’t get local news anywhere else. This past week, a very good example of this came up at work.
In the town I cover, local police arrested two people for running a “massage” parlor. I got the scoop on the story and it was up our Web site a day before the Boston Globe had anything. My story was more detailed and on the front page of our print edition while the Globe’s seemed to be buried in the local section. (Here’s my story and the Globe’s)
I got the story first because of the paper’s relationship with the local police department. The Boston Globe doesn’t have a relationship with them. They don’t have a reporter specifically for that town because it’s not their main beat. This is neither right or wrong; it simply is what it is. The point is, the local people who actually are affected by these arrests and the prostitution business got more information faster from the local paper than they did from the Globe.
If there was no local paper, residents would still be able to read about the arrests in the Globe. Yet they might have missed the article altogether since it wasn’t prominently displayed. Without the local paper, there isn’t another way/venue for residents to get local news.
Ultimately, I hope there would be an outcry if our paper was simply eliminated. People may not appreciate their local news, but it is important. Hopefully readers will realize that before it’s too late
In his blog BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis* recently discussed newspapers getting rid of sections and the apparent lack of reaction readers had to the disappearance of previously regular sections. In his July 3 blog, Jarvis writes:
What if papers kept killing sections and nobody cared? Do they care about the newspaper? Or will there be good news in there — you finally kill something they do care about? Get rid of the business section, as the Baltimore Sun just did, following the example of other papers: Yawn. Most local business sections suck anyway. Get rid of the features section as another paper did: Silence. That one surprises me, which is why I think there’s a dangerous message in that. So what if you got rid of sports? People may be getting all they want online and on TV.
He continues on:
Local? Well, if a paper killed that and nobody cared that’d be time to lock up and turn off the lights. I’m hoping — praying — there’d be an outcry.
It seems shocking to me that people wouldn’t care if the papers’ business, features and other sections are gone. Yet it appears this fact is the reason why newspapers are doing so badly. Nobody cares because they are getting most of their (non-local) news elsewhere. They simply aren’t going to their local paper for information on presidential elections. Local news is, in my opinion, the only hope for local papers.
*Jarvis is a columnist for The Guardian who is also associated with many other famous newspapers and magazines. He has blogged extensively on how newspapers can survive and what he thinks they should do on BuzzMachine.