NEWBY: Vibrant communities and local media must work together

John Newby

John Newby

January is our back-to-basics month each year. This week, we discuss the importance of local media in building a vibrant transformative community. Don’t confuse local media with national media, they are different in their mission and scope.  Local media can be vital in a community’s transformation and vibrancy.

It was recently asked, What happens when a community loses their local newspaper? A follow-up question was also asked, How would that community then get their news?

As might be expected, answers varied from things such as radio, social media, word of mouth, friends, neighbors, to answers such as other regional outlets and so forth. All of which are accurate to a degree, but regardless, it was agreed the community would suffer from lack of accurate information. 

Yes, communities would still figure out when businesses closed, violent crimes tend to blanket social media and word of mouth, the not so pleasant news and information tends to reach far and wide on social media, radio, friends, neighbors etc. And yes, they would get a bit of regional coverage for any high-profile crimes and business closings. They might even get unlucky and have a major news outlet like the New York Times or Washington Post swoop into town doing a feature story on another dying rural American town.  

But who is consistently going to be the community voice sharing the community’s feel-good stories, business openings, and convey the great things happening locally to the outside world? Aside from a local media company sharing the great happenings in your community, let’s carry reality one step further.

When potential new businesses are looking to relocate to a community, they first tend to Google all the prospective communities or locations. Without a voice sharing the great things going on, what they will see besides the business closings, crime stories, obituaries, and yes, that NY Times piece, will appear at the top of their search.

Without that voice conveying the good things, they are left with only the impressions of the less desirable things. What conclusions do you think they will make? While I wish this was only a “what if” situation, unfortunately, nearly 2,000 communities across the country experience this scenario today.

Local newspapers can be the eyes into the soul of your community. They should be the community’s ambassador to the outside world. If the local newspaper can’t convey your community’s positive message to the outside world, who then will be able to convey that message in a consistent and accurate fashion?

If your local newspaper isn’t doing this, demand them to do so. Newspapers should be the community’s proverbial communication town square. In today’s world of media fragmentation and information sources, providing this role is more critical than ever. Local communities need every bit of help they can muster, having a local media presence fulfilling the above roles is critical to the overall success and vitality of the community. 

A recent Notre Dame study indicated a community that loses their newspaper could expect the cost of local government to increase by 30% within five years. This doesn’t mean government is bad, but without the media oversight, they tend to spend more than they otherwise might.

Regardless of the political leanings of the local newspaper, that simple act of oversight saves a community hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Another recent poll shows most residents believe their local newspaper is doing fine financially. While many newspapers are okay, it is safe to say most local media outlets are facing challenging and potentially crippling economic headwinds. Importantly, it is often the case communities are facing many of these same economic challenges.

The media company and the community must work together, finding synergies that can be created to mold a strong community foundation from which to build. For both to succeed, they need each other more than ever before.

When a community loses its newspaper, part of that community dies.  In addition to less civil engagement, these communities may lose their identity.

A quote by Portland State’s Lee Shaker was recently shared with me.

He said in a Nieman Lab report, “If a community loses it’s newspaper, it stops being it’s own place. It becomes a satellite of something else, rather than having it’s own core identity.”

A community without a newspaper becomes a rudderless ship adrift in the treacherous economic currents of life.  

John A. Newby, of Pineville, MO. is the author of “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” a weekly column appearing in over communities. He is Founder of Truly-Local, LLC and dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy and combining synergies with their local media to become more vibrant and competitive. His email is: