Friday, June 21, 2024

The importance of local newspapers in today’s world


Glenn Rogers represents District 60 in the Texas House of Representatives.

Few professions have attracted the same level of public scrutiny in recent years as journalists. In many instances, these criticisms can be well warranted as many cable or online publications stray further into bad faith opinions rather than objective reporting.

This fracture between the "mainstream media" and the average Texan has deepened because of a competitive dispute between a corporate agenda and the traditional Texan culture — elite coastal publications broadcast a more liberal point of view.

In contrast, our state still prides itself on its conservative values. Throughout the last decade, general trust in prominent media outlets has declined significantly, and only 35% of Americans believe that news companies care about the people or circumstances on which they report. As public trust in the media declines, the quality work of community-focused news organizations tends to be overlooked. In fact, little contributes to the growing culture and safety of the public more than the local newspaper.

Unlike the New York Times or Washington Post, local newspapers tend to be founded, funded and operated by people who live in your community. These reporters, editors and writers spend countless hours researching and investigating local issues with direct impacts. The community newspaper keeps the town informed on elected officials’ meetings, local acts of heroism, and, of course, the high school sports teams.

Inside each issue is a beautiful microcosm of the culture of any town — large or small. Your local newspaper also keeps the citizenry informed on the critical happenings of local government. While the latest fight in Washington D.C. may be an exciting story, the deliberations from your city or county commissioners court over the upcoming tax rate make much more of a local impact.

Often the columns I author about essential policies in the Texas Legislature would not exist without the distribution of local newspapers across House District 60. This information would not be printed in a statewide publication, and without these community organizations, local leaders would be unable to keep constituents up to date. Unfortunately, these important institutions are at risk of extinction across the state.

According to a 2022 report by the Local News Initiative, over one-third of local newspapers have ceased operations since 2015, leaving numerous Texas counties without community journalism. Nationally, over 2,500 newspapers have dissolved in the past 17 years, with another third expected to be gone by 2025. More than 20% of Americans now live in a "news desert," meaning they have little to no local online or print coverage.

Many attribute the decline in local news to the rise of online journalism; however, as print organizations shutter their doors, digital replacements are few and far between. The total number of digital online websites is only barely keeping pace with the decline of print. In areas that struggle with connecting to high-speed internet, access to online information is an even more significant challenge. Decreasing advertising revenue, coupled with the disproportionately increased operating costs of a news organization, have left small publishers in an untenable position.

As these local newspapers close, citizens lose necessary transparency on local government and municipal developments. One study found a correlation between increased corruption and inefficiencies in local government as the coverage of local news organizations declined — predominantly in metropolitan areas. Newspaper barons, hedge funds, and communications monopolies have seized control of many local newspaper chains, taking away the crucial interpersonal component that drives the passion and involvement a community desperately needs.

With the August inaugural edition of the Palo Pinto Press, all of the counties in Texas House District 60 are fortunately covered by at least one local print outlet. Each of these community newspapers have dedicated and talented staffers who work diligently to keep you informed and to keep me and my fellow elected officials accountable.

These local news editors and writers are not outsiders, they are integral parts to the communities they cover. They do not write to appease the interests of billionaires or coastal elites; they write to serve you. So next time you see a local paper on the stand, pick up a copy. Even better, subscribe to your local newspaper or place an ad in the paper. Stay connected to your hometown, keep yourself informed on important issues and support local journalism.