Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Not the News

What happens in the absence of local news? 

Current events don’t stop happening because there is no one to report on them. People still want to know what is going on in their community. But without local journalism they lack people with the professional expertise to gather and assess the important information which may affect their daily lives. 

In the old days news would have traveled by word of mouth, moving through groups of people gathered perhaps at church or a saloon or a country store. You judged the quality of information by your impression  of the character of the speaker. The expression “as good as his word” comes to mind.

Today news travels through groups of people gathered on social media. The amount we see daily is staggering. We still do our best to judge the quality of information based on our knowledge of the speaker, but social media can lend an authoritative weight when everything looks like news but very little of it actually is.

Into this current environment come blogs. Meant to be informative, often providing commentary. I think blogs are important or I wouldn’t write one. But they are not news and they are not meant to be. Bloggers are not held to journalistic standards. 

But, in the absence of local news, a blog can look like news. And that concerns me.

Yesterday local blogger Jeremy Dommu at The Merriweather Post published a piece on an upcoming local legal case. It looks like news. It reads like news. But it’s not. It’s an opinion piece. And, in the grand scheme of things, that’s fine, because he is not a journalist and he is perfectly entitled to create and share such a post. If he hopes to influence public opinion on an issue that matters to him, that’s well within his rights.

But it isn’t news. 

Yesterday I saw people share that post with the same sense of authority that one would have when sharing an article from the Baltimore Sun or the Washington Post. And that troubles me. As much as I love writing about issues that matter to me and starting local conversations, I would be horrified to see anyone share a post of mine and say, “it’s all in the article, I don’t need to know anything else.” 

Please don’t ever do that. Ask questions. Do more research. Consult more than one source if at all possible. Push back if people tell you there’s only one way to look at things.

In the absence of local news, there’s a vacuum that all of us are striving to fill, with varying degreees of success. The flood of information on social media makes that all the more difficult.

Writers at the Baltimore Sun are engaged in an effort to create local ownership for the paper rather than see its continued destruction by hedge fund group owners. It’s called Save Our Sun. You can follow them on Twitter @SaveOurSun and learn more at their website. One thing I think all local bloggers can agree on: strong local news coverage by well-trained, professional journalists supports an environment where better decisions can be made by better-informed citizens. 

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