In 1798 James Madison wrote of the press: “To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.” In 2020, if Madison was correct then reason and humanity could be in for an even rougher ride, with hometown newspapers collapsing across the country. But to think of this threat to hometown journalism as being just a local story is to miss the bigger story.
No longer represented by local shoe leather reporting done by a journalist you knew and saw at town meetings, many American communities now only think of the media as distant strangers who can’t be trusted. So the scarcity of hometown newspapers doesn’t just make it so some communities are dark on local news, but it’s actively feeding our lack of trust and the partisan divide at a national level. Add this together with the rise of multimedia conglomerates and partisan news sources and it’s obvious why our problems in journalism are Big Wicked Problems, and time might be short to stop the most profound consequences that lie ahead. And if we lose our paper, just who can we blame but ourselves?
In keeping with our theme for the year – that it’s in our hometown where we ultimately decide who we are to each other and (in this case) what we know about our government, our community and our neighbors. So we’ll also talk specifically about how we keep our local journalism healthy and alive for the decades ahead.
Our conversation will begin with former Tallahassee Democrat publisher Skip Foster and Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas, both of whom have copious wisdom to share on our topic. Mary Ellen spent a year as a Harvard Niemen fellow studying the deep connectedness between the health of local journalism and the health of democracy. Read “Less Local News Means Less Democracy” here. As the evening progresses, we’ll expand the circle of wisdom and experience with former FAMU J-School Dean Dr. Ann Kimbrough, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bob Sanchez and local nonprofit startup Tallahassee Reports’ Steve Stewart.