Local Journalism in a Worldwide Pandemic
We know a lot about what is going on in the world as a whole. But in times like these, what we know about what is happening in our worlds — the neighborhoods, cities, and counties that we call our communities — is vastly more important.
Like local reporter Emily Brown pointed out, writing for local, smaller news organizations isn’t somehow easier. Pew Research found that 85% of adults think it at least somewhat important for journalists to have an understanding of the community’s history and 81% think it somewhat important that journalists are personally engaged with their local area.
The reason that it is so important for community journalists to be so heavily invested in and educated about their area is because of the power the information they communicate holds.
A story about an unjust law implemented in a country on the other side of the world might elicit at most a click and a discussion at the dinner table. However, a story about an unfair law passed by the local city council will have a more tangible, immediate response, and, to the story’s audience, is more impactful.
Think about this in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A story about how the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide are increasing is interesting information, but at the end of the day, it’s just that — information. It has little impact on how individual people live their daily lives.
However, a story about the number of cases in your hometown is more than just numbers on a page. Parents will use it to decide if in-person or virtual learning is the safer option for their children, and high school sports teams will cancel games based off of it. That information needs to be more accurate, since people will be taking action on it.
It’s good to know what’s going on in the rest of the world, but it’s more important to know what’s going on in your world, the news that will affect the decisions you have to make on a daily basis.
In times like these where the quality of community journalism is critical, how can it improve?
Pew Research found that only 21% of adults have spoken with a journalist. Like Emily Brown said, community journalism is all about the people. People are impacted by journalists who show up at community events and engage with as many people as possible when covering a story.
Social media interaction is an important part of engaging an audience, but it’s no match for the impact of face-to-face contact. While this may be a challenge given the current situation, it’s worth looking into how journalists can interact with the community not just as information providers, but also as fellow human beings.