I officially left the newspaper industry last July when I joined American Agriculturist.
I learned a lot of things being a newspaper person. I interviewed some high-profile people, traveled to many interesting places and learned the importance of telling a good story.
I got my start at a local, small-town newspaper called The Star-Democrat in Easton, Md. Most journalism college graduates get their first job at a small-town newspaper, covering everything from local water sewer projects to graduation ceremonies at the local high school. I was no different.
I learned a lot in that first job. I learned the value of getting my stories right, even if the topic seemed a little trivial to me. I also learned about the impact a local newspaper can have on a community.
If you wanted to know what was going on in a city or town, you went to the store and bought the newspaper. My hometown newspaper used to run a “sound off” feature in the paper every day where people would call a number and leave a message about something that was going on in the city. What did most people leave messages about? Dog poop. Yep! More specifically, people not cleaning up after their pets.
Yes, I know, sounds ridiculous, but that local newspaper was the only place where you could see that sort of thing. It was the gathering place for people to communicate their grievances and to share ideas.
Those days are long gone.
If you haven’t heard, there is a local news crisis in this country. Small-town newspapers are going bankrupt and closing. Thousands of journalists, many of them my friends, are losing their jobs.
It didn’t truly hit home until recently when I found out that a local newspaper I always revered, The Reading Eagle, was going bankrupt and was being bought by Media News Group, also known as Digital First Media. This company, which is owned by a New York City-based hedge fund, is well-known for buying struggling local newspapers, making deep cuts to resources and staff, and then selling off those companies’ assets, mainly the buildings, to squeeze as much profit out of the operation as they can.
Just Google this company and you’ll see the effects of their business model. Newspapers like the Denver Post and the Orange County Register, publications that have won Pulitzer Prizes for their work, are now a shell of what they once were. Hundreds of skilled reporters and other staff have been laid off.
From 2008 to 2017, 45% of newspaper newsroom jobs were eliminated, according to the Pew Research Center.
I know many people who work at The Reading Eagle. Checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few days has been depressing. Most people know they will probably lose their jobs.
I’m not naïve. I know most people don’t read the newspaper. I don’t even read the newspaper anymore. But I do read local news, mostly online.
I’m thankful for the people who read American Agriculturist, whether in print or online. To all the loyal readers, thank you for your support.
But don’t forget about supporting your local news outlet, whether it’s a newspaper, an online entity or a local television station. They need your support.
Most reporters are hard-working people who want to make a positive difference in their communities by telling stories of people who have an unusual pet, or about the kid who opened a small lemonade stand to raise money for a friend battling cancer, or the woman who volunteers in the local nursing home. You won’t find any of these stories in The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Local reporters gather sources, sift through public records and attend public meetings to make sure local leaders are being held accountable for their actions.
And when it comes to sports, it’s the local paper or website where you’ll find the scores from the high school baseball or football game.
I know it’s planting season and you’re busy. But take a break and think about the effects of not having local reporters covering your town. Subscribe to your local paper or online news site.
Without journalists, democracy truly does die in darkness.