Staff Ed: Local news brings power to the people

Since 2005, about 2,200 local newspapers across America have closed, according to the MacArthur Foundation.

Because of these closures 20% of Americans find themselves in “news deserts” where little to no reliable news coverage is offered about their area.

Staying informed about one’s community is a no-brainer, but if local journalism continues to face obstacles like low readership, insufficient funding and decreased cooperation, staying informed becomes much harder.

As distributors of information, small local newsrooms serve a powerful role in their community, but as for-profit journalism continues to dominate the information pool, their ability to stay open dwindles.

We need to reprioritize finding ways to support and bolster the efforts of community reporting.

Community journalism focuses on locally-oriented, professional news coverage that typically narrows its scope to city neighborhoods, individual suburbs or small towns.

Kenneth Byerly, who coined the term “community journalism,” emphasized the unique position small publications have in their area.

“Community newspapers have something that city dailies lack—a nearness to people. This is a great strength, and a great problem” he said in his book, “Community Journalism.”

The nearness community papers have to their audience allows readers to be specifically informed about their neighbors and those in power in their communities.

As a part of the community themselves, these papers diligently keep their community informed, even if it means publishing stories that reveal hard truths.

Though breaking hard news is a part of the job, journalists who work for community papers also attend informational events that some may call boring like school board meetings.

Small papers have broken stories on impossible school bus routes in Jefferson County, Ky. Political fraud in DuBois, Pa. and water contamination levels in Wausau, Wisc., to name a few.

The Duquesne Duke serves this role for the Duquesne community and covers the stuff no other newspaper has the bandwidth to.

From stories about student businesses and the Junior Jays pep band at March Madness, to over-promised parking on campus and the Black student Union awards banquet, The Duke takes its position as serving its community seriously.

We have to continue to support The Duke, and papers like it, as the student journalists here will graduate and hopefully repopulate smaller community reporting initiatives reversing adverse effects of news deserts.