Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do We Need Traditional Local Media Anymore?

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This post is only intended to generate reflection and critical analysis. 

Just a half dozen years ago, our local print media (The Grand Rapids Press) contained a wealth of local news with a complete section each week dedicated to regional areas. This weekly pullout was always loaded with school news, most of it positive. The Press made a business decision to eliminate the community news section and also to reduce its daily number of pages to basically advertising, distilled national and international news, and few sprinkling of articles covering local news. As you might suspect, the reduction in local news reporting (most of the beat and contract reporters were let go) led to an era of devoting most space to controversial issues in schools and local government. At that point, I cancelled my 30+ year-old subscription and went to relying on the internet for news.

I'm back as a paid subscriber due to the e-edition of The Grand Rapids Press, but I don't really know why except perhaps for the novelty of it. Had I not purchased an iPad, I probably wouldn't have bought the subscription. I can read through the daily edition in about ten minutes because that's the extent of anything really newsworthy that I haven't already read online from free resources. Sunday's edition takes a little longer because I have to wade through the endless advertisements and pullout sections.

The Grand Rapids Press just announced it will be reducing its print editions to three days per week and beefing up its online presence. My question is why even bother printing at all? Will it mean that the Press will return to the days of reporting more on local news and expanding its reach through positive school and local community reporting? Not likely. That kind of reporting requires, well, reporters and the Press has pretty much laid them off or forced them into retirement. There is no reporting. I see or hear from our school district beat reporter about once every two months, unless a controversial issue rears its ugly head. I even link to him through social media but he's stretched so thin, there's no reasonable way to expect that he can cover it all. There is no reporting.

In this era of free or cheap, readily-available online blogging and social media, do we really need one or two corporations controlling our news coverage anymore? The Press argues its in the business of providing expanded coverage of what might be incomplete reporting by TV and radio outlets or online sources. I doubt that's accurate since many of the national and international articles I read in the Press are vastly reduced from the original source, which I already read online anyway.

Perhaps its time for school districts to band together to provide their own media outlet and online news service since most of our parents, students and communities have access in some manner to online or email-delivered news. Maybe local communities can do the same so that we can once again report on what's really happening in our local areas in a more balance approach instead of only the sensational stuff. There is no valid reason anymore to continue paying money to a single organization for the "privilege" of having select, edited, delayed content sent our way. Once we open up our thinking to multiple media outlets - local, state, national and international - we'll no longer be subject solely to what the editors want us to know. We can think for ourselves in a much more balanced way.