Newspapers are not as popular as they once were. These days, many people are quick to point out they get their news online. Fair enough.
It is true the mode of consumption of local news has shifted, however, the demand for local news has not waned. For a lot of small communities, weekly newspapers provide the only dedicated news coverage of local events and politics. As funding of community newspapers has dwindled in recent decades, more publications close their doors each year, in some cases leaving large geographic areas without dedicated coverage. This phenomenon is known as news deserts, or areas of news poverty.
Studies have revealed the profound impacts of news poverty and news deserts, and it turns out, it’s not great for democracy. Regardless of the format by which local news content is read, local journalism pushes for transparency on matters of business and municipal governance. Although transparency and the idea of public scrutiny does not guarantee institutions will uphold ethics, or act in accordance with their constituents or stakeholders’ ideals, journalism offers public access into issues which simply cannot be replicated without dedicated coverage.
To be clear, our team of reporters and editorial staff are acutely aware of the dominance of the digital in the news industry, and understand that for younger generations, it might be the only way they have ever read news.
By and large, institutions of authority in journalism agree the degradation of local journalism initiatives only exacerbates socio-economic division. Research underway at Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism found, “the decline in local newspapers continued (in 2022) while digital alternatives, once seen as the saviour, remain nonexistent in most communities that have lost a newspaper.” While this market decline results in the loss of the printed newspaper product, local communities are not just losing the ability to read the physical paper, but all of its contents.
So while some people today might be quick to call the humble printing press “obsolete,” the work done by hyper-local and local reporters is financed through the public’s support of these publications. Our community reporters, in their pursuit of local stories can impact how municipal issues reach the greater public consciousness.
For example, in 2022, a local piece covering the issue of Coaldale’s lack of cost-sharing agreement with the federal government for RCMP-contracted policing was later picked up and published for larger audiences by the Lethbridge Herald, and Medicine Hat News. This is an ordinary practice, but days later, that same article was retweeted by Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Tyler Shandro, and potentially consumed by tens of thousands more. None of those readers online once picked up the physical newspaper, yet a small-town news story had momentarily captured the attention of someone in provincial government.
By the end of the article’s “life”, it had deviated from its original print form to digital, from one paper to a larger one, before finally spreading its wings in the Twitter-verse. However, we think it is worth noting that the resources which financed the initial local coverage was made possible through the continued support of local newspapers.