whence ‘local’ news?

There is not a lot of local news I care about this morning, either in the paper or on tv.

Granted, it’s Columbus Day, and a Monday, both of which make for slow news days.

But I think something else is at work, something mostly ignored.

Usually, we attribute a lack of local news – or its irritable equivalent, the ‘not much of a story’ blown up to bewildering length – to the news gathering organization, and/or the state of the industry, along the lines of “if X newspaper or tv station had more reporters on the street, they’d be able to get more/better news because they would look harder and take more chances.”

All of which is true, but which ignores the other end of the equation.

Is it possible there is simply less local news?

There isn’t a drop of originality in my argument, but it doesn’t get said often enough. Here goes: back when the local economy was only loosely joined to the rest of the nation’s/world’s, more things we call ‘news’ happened locally, in public view. When shopping was not tucked away in purpose built malls, you went downtown and some fair part of what you did took place on the public street.

What happens in a mall, stays in a mall. They give the illusion of being public spaces, but they’re not. By extension, if you now avoid malls and shop online, you’re perfecting the privatization of your public life.

On top of that, the big stores that dominate our retail economy have no connection to us, other than serving as outposts for their headquarters. There is no local accountability; though some companies make local donations, sponsor groups, etc., you can’t go to your favorite big box, pull up a chair at the boss’s desk and walk out with an answer to most things. They’d have to check with corporate.

What about Facebook and Twitter and the rest? Well, I think they’re partly reactions to the fact that people can’t get the news they want otherwise. They’re a pretty good substitute for some aspects of local news, but they still dwell too much on consequences and not enough on causes.

As our economy grows increasingly opaque – and I live in a military community, where the major provider of jobs is a gated and closed post – the essential material from which local news gains traction is lost. What we’re left with is a less and less satisfactory accounting of effects – governments that can’t do their jobs, and crimes that often connect back to the economy.

Maybe I protest too much, but when I look at local news (including news I am responsible for) I too often think ‘There’s no there, there.’ And if local news stories are the little creatures of the larger ecology of national and world news, how much poorer will they be, if we eventually can’t find something interesting to talk about?

 

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