In a training session in which I had the opportunity to participate, the question was asked: What happens when a community loses its local newspaper?
This was followed with another question: How would the community then get their news? As expected, answers varied from social media, word of mouth, friends, neighbors, regional outlets and so forth. All are partially correct, but it was agreed the community would suffer from less-accurate, less-timely and less first-hand information.
Yes, they would get the latest business closings, violent crimes committed along with the not so pleasant news and information from the above listed sources. They might even get lucky (unlucky) and have a major metro swoop into town to do a feature story on another dying rural American town.
But who would tell the community’s feel-good stories and convey the great things happening locally to the outside world? Carrying this one step further, when potential new businesses are looking to relocate to your community or a competing community, they first Google all the prospective communities or locations.
What will they then find when they Google your town? They will see those business closings, crime stories, obituaries and, yes, that metro piece appearing at the top of their search as well. What impressions will they find and what decisions do you think they will make?
While I wish this was simply a “what if?” situation, unfortunately, nearly 2,000 communities across the country are experiencing this scenario today.
The local newspaper is the eyes into the soul of your community and your ambassador to the outside world. If the local newspaper can’t convey the positive message to the outside world, who will?
Newspapers use to be the community’s proverbial communication town square. In today’s fragmented media world, capturing this role is more critical than ever.
Local communities need all the help they can muster; having a local media presence is critical to the overall success and vitality of a community.
A Notre Dame study indicated a community losing their newspaper can expect the cost of local government to increase by 30 percent within five years.
Without oversight, governments tend to spend more than they otherwise might. This simple act of oversight can save a community millions of dollars.
A recent poll showed most local residents believe their local newspaper is doing fine financially. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
Media companies and communities must work together finding synergies that can be created molding a foundation for both to succeed, so they need each other more than ever before.
When a community loses its newspaper, part of that community dies.
In addition to less civil engagement, it loses its identity. A quote by Portland State’s Lee Shaker was recently shared with me. He said in a Nieman Lab report, “If a community loses its newspaper, it stops being its own place. It becomes a satellite of something else, rather than having its own core identity.”
A community without a newspaper becomes a rudderless ship adrift in the treacherous economic currents of life.
(John A. Newby is the author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column and CEO of Truly-Local LLC, which is dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy and combine synergies with their local media — often lost to the internet and out-of-town owned companies. His email is [email protected].)