Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Late Local Edition

The local newspaper is dying in America, and with it, the local news, informing people of what's going on with local government, crime, and business.

Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket.

He wears a tie; Maurina insists upon professionalism.

He is the press — in its entirety.

Maurina, who posts his work to Facebook, is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations — specifically, their discussions about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated during a 2013 flood.

Last September, Waynesville became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina.

Blame revenue siphoned by online competition, cost-cutting ownership, a death spiral in quality, sheer disinterest among readers or reasons peculiar to given locales for that development. While national outlets worry about a president who calls the press an enemy of the people, many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died of cancer.

Local journalism is dying in plain sight

In another ten years, I figure there won't be a local newspaper for any American city of fewer than 100,000 people.  If you're close enough to a larger city, you might get a few blurbs daily about the suburb you're in, but nobody will be covering the place unless the Mayor drives a tank through city hall or something.

But increasingly, Americans don't care.  Most of us can't even name the Mayor of where we live, and just vote for them because they've been in office for a couple decades. And the city council or county commission?  Forget it.

Who's going to keep your local politicians in line and accountable?

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