As we’ve discussed here many times in the past, the loss of local papers around the United States is going to have negative repercussions that we cannot yet imagine. There will, without a doubt, be more government corruption, and corporate crime. A democracy, in order to survive and thrive, needs an active investigative press. And, unfortunately, while the other branches of government are funded in the United States by tax dollars, the press is not. It’s up to us, the people, to fund such activities. And, lately, we’ve been doing a piss poor job of it.
And, as much as I love blogs, I don’t think blogs are sufficient to the task of rooting out corruption and abuse. Bloggers not only lack resources – they lack the ability to strike fear into the hearts of elected officials. Take, for example, the case of EMU student Laura Dickinson, who was murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student in 2007. Does anyone really think that story would have been broken open by a blogger? I think it’s safe to say that, had that murder taken place today, there would be a good chance that President Fallon would still be in power at EMU, and that people would never know the extent to which University administrators had conspired to keep it quiet that a student had been murdered. And that’s just one isolated example.
At any rate, the FCC just put out a fascinating report on the current state of American media. If you get a chance, I’d suggest checking it out. And, if you’re not one to follow links, here’s a little introduction from our friends at Think Progress:
The Federal Communications Commission’s report titled “Information Needs of Communities” probably won’t generate as much buzz as a political sex scandal, but at least one of its findings should be a cause for concern among citizens. The study concludes that “we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting” which “manifests itself in invisible ways: stories not written, scandals not exposed, government waste not discovered, health dangers not identified in time, local elections involving candidates about whom we know little.”
The report indicates that the decline in local reporting is a result of “dislocations caused by seismic changes in media markets.” In other words, local newspapers’ subscriber bases are drying up because readers are migrating online. Despite the limited success of services such as AOL’s Patch, online media has not been able to fill in the gap created as local papers have downsized their reporting staffs and cut back on the quantity and frequency of their publications.
This raises the question of whether demand for local news was that strong in the first place. After all, if individuals actually valued local reporting when print newspapers were still thriving, then wouldn’t they press for online news sources to offer more of it now? And if nobody was reading local stories in print papers, then what difference does it make if they vanish? Still, the mere threat of press coverage often can be enough to keep state and local governments honest. Even if citizens weren’t actively seeking out information about city council meetings, state and local elections and public sector dealings with private business, there was the possibility that they would become aware of a scandal or boondoggle through a front-page headline or a lead report on the 6 o’clock news…
So, instead of an “accountability press” we, for the most part, at least at a local level, now have glorified bloggers, under tight deadlines to get fresh content up several times a day, posting press releases issued by corporations and public entities. It’s a recipe for disaster. And you’ve all been warned.