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Friday, June 21
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: Support local journalism, before it’s too late

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The hometown newspaper I grew up reading has become a ghost.  

Gone are the printouts of the elementary school’s honor roll list and coverage of high school football games. Local elections and political disputes go uncovered, and citizens turn toward Facebook groups for information. Any notice of crime must be picked up on police scanners or the Nextdoor app.  

While the paper, the Mooresville-Decatur Times (MDT), had faced declining resources for years, its reporters always made a valiant effort to cover the most pressing issues. But then the paper’s parent company, Gannett, got rid of the last of the paper’s reporters, leading us to where we are today — a Frankenstein's monster of barely relevant stories from other Gannett papers. 

I wish my hometown paper was a fluke, but it isn’t. Since the 2019 merger with GateHouse Media, which made Gannett the largest U.S. newspaper company by total daily circulation, the company has more than halved their employees and slashed 171 papers. The latter number does not even encompass the hollowing out of many of Gannett’s remaining papers, like the MDT, which I can only assume continues to make a profit despite producing no original content. These ghost newsrooms are not viable forms of news. 

The state of local news is in crisis. We can either act now or accept this dystopia as our future. 

*** 

For years, the public’s trust in the news has been declining. And I can’t blame them.  

As much as I believe in journalism, it’s not perfect. The profession relies on a knife’s edge balance between speed and accuracy, which can often lead newspapers to make major mistakes. Broadcast news has become particularly partisan and reactionary. National journalists are criticized for living in a bubble, and their critics may be right.  

[Related: OPINION: The myth of objective journalism]

But for all our flaws, journalists are some of the only independent forces keeping government accountable, telling important stories and informing the public. Changes must be made, but a world without journalism is a horrifying alternative.  

When local papers become ghosts, many communities are left without news. It is often only when they are gone that citizens begin to realize the impact of their local newspaper; research has found declining local news worsens corruption, reduces competition in elections and increases municipal borrowing, which often means higher taxes.  

Here in Bloomington, the seventh largest city in Indiana, there is only one remaining traditional newspaper: the Herald-Times. This newspaper has three news reporters, two sports reporters, a photographer and a news director, according to their website. A staff of seven individuals for a city of nearly 80,000 people. It’s an impossible task to do without gaps.  

The Indiana Daily Student has always been there to help fill in some gaps. While we have a robust staff, our student status makes it difficult to cover everything: so, the gaps remain.  

In recent years, excellent work from independent news sites The Bloomingtonian and the BSquare Bulletin have helped strengthen coverage of crime and city government. Indiana Public Media is another valuable resource. It is still not nearly enough.  

Though I am devoted to a career in a field with declining jobs and low pay, I press on because I know the continuance of journalism is essential for the health of our democracy. I can’t accept that it’s dying, because it’s not like transitioning from vinyl to streaming — each change to journalism affects our politics, our social connectiveness, our reality.  

When I covered city government for the IDS in the spring, I often felt frustrated at how much I was missing. There simply wasn’t enough time to dive into the budgets, request public records and attend every city meeting.  

But for all I couldn’t do, I felt a duty to do my best to get the public the information they deserved. During that semester, I sometimes skipped class to cover important stories, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. This kind of work matters. 

*** 

When I tell people I work for my student paper and then talk about it with this level of seriousness, I can feel them mentally rolling their eyes. But those who read us know how much we care. 

In 2023, we’ve covered Bloomington’s robust music and arts community, controversies on IU’s campus and a whirlwind of IU sports news. We’ve watched local government meetings and elections closely, publishing candidate guides and keeping politicians accountable. Our enterprise stories continue to provide in-depth analysis on issues other newspapers don’t have time to examine, including a breakdown of IU’s climate action plan, a map of crash data in Monroe County and a deep dive into IU’s collection of Native American remains.  

But as previous editors have written in 2021 and 2023, the IDS is facing financial troubles, just like almost every other news outlet. It’s a complex and widespread issue no individual can solve, but you, the reader, can help.  

Continue to read the IDS. Read the Herald-Times. Support Dave Askins at BSquare and Jeremy Hogan at The Bloomingtonian. For statewide or Indianapolis news, read the Indiana Capital Chronicle and the new nonprofit Mirror Indy. The world is confusing and frustrating. It can feel emotionally taxing to read the news when many of us are exhausted from work or school — I don’t even read the news as much as I’d like.  

But if we stop reading, people in power will tell journalists to stop writing. They will have proof of what they often imply: no one wants to read the news anymore. They will try to catch your attention with podcasts and TikToks and Jesse Watters and Rachel Maddow. Your local papers will die, and you’ll find yourself totally relying on Facebook groups for information. Politicians will have no one except voters to hold them accountable — voters who do not have the time to search through campaign finance documents and sit through hours-long meetings.  

When the future appears bleak, our natural urge is to shut down and give up. You are just one person out of billions: how could you possibly reverse years of economic and social change?  

It’s a valid feeling, so I’d like to leave you with a success story from the community where I grew up. 

After the MDT and the neighboring Reporter-Times became ghosts, the community took action. A group of journalists and local investors banded together to create the Morgan County Correspondent, which editor Stephen Crane says has exceeded profit expectations so far. This is true even though the Correspondent produces a print edition in the face of the expression “print is dead.” 

[Related: OPINION: The world would be oh-so-boring without opinions]

As I watch this unfold from Bloomington, I find myself wondering: what’s their secret? But when I think about it some more, I realize it’s not really that revolutionary at all, because people do want to read the news, and will always read the news.  

I don’t think journalism is dying, but I do think it’s being suffocated. 

When you pick up a copy of the IDS or share a story with your neighbors, it’s air in our lungs. Keep doing it. 

Marissa Meador (she/her) is a junior studying political science and journalism. 

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