Without Oregon Public Broadcasting’s initial reporting, there wouldn’t have been a spotlight on the protesters against police brutality who were yanked off the street by unmarked federal agents in Portland.
Yet “the media” in general was unfairly criticized for its coverage, or what many seemed to think was a lack of coverage.
Social media was plastered with videos or photos with captions like “the media won’t show you this.” One Instagram post viewed more than 18,000 times featured a video of the so-called “wall of moms” supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement with the caption: “This is what the media won’t show you. This is a group of moms singing ‘hands up please don’t shoot.’ This is what the right and @realdonaldtrump claim is ‘Antifa.‘” What the post failed to note is that reporters from The Oregon Live had written a story days earlier about the moms that was picked up nationally.
Another post, a widely shared tweet, reads: “The entire world should be looking at Portland right now. The fact that the media is not paying attention is incredibly concerning.” The tweet was posted July 16 when in fact, that same afternoon, Oregon Public Broadcasting had broken the story. These kinds of misleading assertions erase the work of local news organizations everywhere, ultimately leading more people to go to places like Twitter for news that sometimes isn’t even accurate, and to be even more frustrated with the media landscape.
As a young journalist, I want to fight this battle for the integrity and recognition of local news. I understand the value of social media and see it as a wonderful way to share news with friends and connect, but I also know the untrue rhetoric targeting “the media” is harmful on many accounts. In a world where “the news” is vilified from both sides, it is an uphill battle.
When the social media attacks come from young progressives, it’s usually because they feel left behind by media coverage, sometimes rightfully so. Journalists don’t always do a good job at covering communities. This has undeniably gotten worse as newsroom employment has shrunk by 23% between 2008 and 2019, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Newsrooms are often the hardest hit by economic disasters, and they will surely shrink even more because of the financial pressures created by the pandemic.
The main problem, however, is that readers pay more attention to national news than local coverage. The fact is there are local reporters reporting on things that matter to those who live in the communities they cover, but people are unaware unless it appears in The New York Times or Fox News. Pew Research confirmed this in a study that examined the 2016 election and found that younger people sought out the news most often from national outlets.
That creates a vicious cycle of people not reading local news, local news becoming underfunded and then excellent reporters getting furloughed or laid off. Then people complain that the local news outlets aren’t covering what is important.
People need to realize that news isn’t only relevant when CNN picks it up or The Associated Press news wire shares a story across the country. And that means that while local news should aim to do better in reflecting the community it serves and their values, constituents also need to take a vested interest in the work local reporters are doing.
News deserts, or areas without a local newspaper, ultimately harm communities because important stories will get overlooked by national news media. In a Poynter analysis of a study done by the University of North Carolina, researchers found that since the fall of 2018, “300 more newspapers have failed, bringing the death toll to 2,100, almost 25% of the 9,000 newspapers that were being published 15 years ago.” In addition, the study mentions Maryland by name, referring to Montgomery County, the 17th wealthiest county in the United States, having lost “almost all its newspapers.”
Local news needs a reckoning, something that may start to happen with the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change grant, a competition for a $100 million grant “to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.” Report for America, the national organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported communities, is a finalist for the grant.
As generous and crucial that $100 million grant would be, it won’t solve the journalism crisis on its own. Local news needs readers to engage with the news they’re creating. We can all learn to grow and seek out new information through reliable sources that are verified and fact-checked. And by reading from different news sources, you may find that “the media” very likely is covering “this.”
Anjali DasSarma is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the incoming editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Retriever; and the summer editorial board intern at The Baltimore Sun. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @anjalidassarma.