Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Incredible Shrinking Truth

I pay 29.00 dollars per month to have access to the digital content of the Baltimore Sun, which includes the Howard County Times and Columbia Flier. This week’s Columbia Flier contained just four local stories written by journalists, five if you include the Glenwood/Glenelg/Dayton column by Tracy Trowbridge. All the rest is filler.

Does that mean there were no local stories worth covering in Columbia/HoCo? Hardly. It simply means that our newspaper has stopped covering them. Journalists cost money. Corporate ownership deliberately drains resources. Local news coverage suffers. Smaller newspapers just…die.

In Columbia a few folks are trying their hand at what they call citizen journalism by taking turns writing up the board meetings of the Columbia Association. The effort, spearheaded by Jeremy Dommu of The Merriweather Post, seeks to keep residents informed on the goings-on of our great, good, HOA leadership gods.*  Believe it or not, those meetings used to be covered by our local journalists.

Ah. Those were the days.

My concerns about this effort rest solely in the fact that they are not actually journalism. This is not intended to cast aspersions on the writers’ intent. But it would be possible to read through each of these writeups with a highlighter and identify slant or bias. They aren’t devoted to rigorous journalistic standards. Opinions slip in. 

Of course I express my opinions all the time in this blog. That’s not a crime. But I clearly identify myself as someone who writes commentary. I’d be more comfortable with the CA Board Meeting write ups if they were either: a) strictly factual, or b) clearly identified the portions of the posts that are commentary. In addition, it would be helpful to the reader to give some context as to who the writer is, for example:

“Bert Smith serves as Vice Chair of the Columbia Sustainable Development Committee.” 

“Yvonne Wilder is a former CA Board member who now works for the Howard Hughes Corporation.”

(The above descriptions are wholly fabricated by me. Don’t go looking for these people. They don’t exist.)

I was mulling over the demise of local journalism with a former local journalist yesterday. This statement made me think:

Find another community of 100,000 people without reliable news sources.

My response:

I don’t know. Isn’t this happening everywhere?

My friend pointed out that, in many communities, someone/something rises up to fill that gap, like Baltimore Fishbowl or the Baltimore Banner and Baltimore Beat. But it’s hard to get something like that up and running. Is there a possible world where Columbia/HoCo gets a legitimate source of local news?

I do so much commentary. I need straight journalism to be healthy for my blog to make sense. I want people to be able to go to the primary sources and learn more, become more engaged in the community. Especially now, when so much misinformation flows from social media daily, we desperately need factual, timely information to help us be responsible, informed citizens. As my friend said:

I’ve always said journalism is an important way to keep people responsible, and right now there’s an embarrassing lack of responsibility.

The icing on the cake yesterday was this announcement from Columbia Patch. 

Police officers and neighbors in Bowie will mingle at Long Reach High School in Columbia on August 2.

Oh, really?

They’re busing in police and residents of Bowie to the Columbia event, guaranteed to mingle? I read the accompanying article and it still didn’t make sense. And remember, Patch describes itself as “Local news, events, alerts and more. We’re your source for all things Columbia.”

My friend looked at this with a journalistic eye and saw what I had not. It’s a simple copy-and-paste error. There are two separate events, one in Bowie and one in Howard County. 

And that’s the state of local news today. It all hangs on a copy and paste error.

*My apologies. That’s clearly flippant on my part.

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