It takes a village: Our most precious resource—you

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High-quality, factual journalism—delivered by locally based journalists—has slowly declined across the nation and here in New York for the past 25 years.

Allison Frisch

As of this writing, local journalists at the Democrat and Chronicle are on strike, asking Gannett to come to the bargaining table in good faith and pay its journalists another $1 per hour. Mike Reed, its CEO, received a $3.9 million compensation package last year while the median annual Gannett employee’s salary is about $50,000.

Researchers at Northwestern University found that in the past two decades the nation has lost more than 3,000 newspapers. In New York, the loss of newspapers has been 50 percent over the same time period. There were more than 500 newspapers statewide in 2004, there are now roughly half that number.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2023, there were 5,920 journalists in New York, which exceeds that number in states like Florida (3,100) and Texas (2,580).

Instability and uncertainty

The rise of big tech companies like Google and Meta disrupted the advertising business model, requiring local publishers to rethink the way they fund and deliver local journalism, which is vital to a functioning democracy.

If all politics are local, it would follow that local journalism functions as a watchdog and purveyor of civic information necessary for citizens to make informed decisions about their government.

Add to these challenges a need for a renewed focus on what community building with equity looks like and you have the topic of discussion as local journalism researchers from across the country came together in North Carolina in late March to discuss rebuilding the local news infrastructure equitably and sustainably.

A new era

My current research project, “Deeper into the desert: Beyond mapping local news in New York,” to be delivered at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, put me in touch with the Rochester Beacon and other New York publications for in-depth conversations with newsroom leaders about their challenges and hopes for local journalism in 2024. 

Those challenges center on one primary theme: resources, which is primarily journalists to cover all of the vital local stories that deserve their attention.

As a professor of journalism and documentary studies at Ithaca College, I see declining enrollment in the journalism major as attitudes toward the profession fall victim to partisan polarization, ironically caused by the lack of quality local news. 

Those students who are passionate about becoming journalists are often disheartened when they look to a declining industry for work beyond college. That’s why I ask them to focus on publications like the Rochester Beacon that are at the forefront of a new era in local news and community building. 

I ask them: What if you could return to your home community and report from there? What if the funding was available and you could gain the trust of the community, and report those uncomfortable truths—along with inspiring local news—necessary for making sound civic decisions?

It is my sincerest hope that researchers and local news startups can build the journalism infrastructure to allow them to do so.

Equity, trust and a new way forward

Letrell Deshan Crittenden, the director of inclusion and audience growth with the American Press Institute, Rich Lord, managing editor at PublicSource, and Derrick Cain, director of community engagement for Resolve Philly, this past month kicked off a conference sponsored by Duke University centered on local journalism research with a discussion on rethinking coverage to create equity and build trust across a community.

I was privileged to moderate this session and see firsthand the way PublicSource is making great strides to connect with Philadelphia communities of color who have largely lost trust in the media, mainly due to a lack of complete and representative coverage.

Using an Inclusion Index to measure diversity in newsrooms and coverage, and the level of trust communities have in their local media in Philadelphia, the consortium began to map the community assets that required deeper understanding for community building.

A series of meetings with community members encouraged “deep listening” to community members who felt coverage of them was stereotypical and incomplete. Lord said it was a challenging exercise: listening to community response to coverage, without trying to defend or reframe the publication’s record when it comes to underrepresented community coverage.

Not about the community without the community

The philosophy has an overarching theme, which is that community stakeholders should be engaged in the coverage they receive. Community input and in some cases advisory boards have become a big part of the way local newsrooms conceive coverage.

In fact, the Beacon regularly holds community meetings to hear from one of the most precious of resources, its constituents. It takes a village to keep our civic lives healthy and free of the scourge of polarization that inhibits the community-building function so vital to civic problem solving.

Without you and your valuable input and involvement, our success is uncertain. Gone are the rigid gatekeeping days of old when local news talked at the community more than it remained in conversation with the community.

Consider this an invitation to be a part of the most worthwhile of projects, rebuilding and strengthening local journalism for the future. In this most important of election years, there’s no time like the present.

Join us, won’t you?

Allison Frisch was a journalist in New York (including Monroe and Ontario counties) and Pennsylvania for 15 years before transitioning to higher education as an assistant professor of journalism and documentary studies at Ithaca College in Tompkins County. She is a member of the Rochester Beacon board of directors.

The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

3 thoughts on “It takes a village: Our most precious resource—you

  1. It takes a village – and the first question asked in a village is “How are the children?” The answer in Rochester would be, “The children are hurting.” Worse, the parents are being blamed, instead of a major culprit, the RCSD. The Beacon has an opportunity to deeply research and report on how the RCSD raises children’s ACE scores while keeping math and ELA proficiency scores low. The research should include how the state and the RCSD funds charter students, almost all Black and Brown children, at 3/5 or lower of district students. And how the charters, while being starved for resources, are able to care for and educate our children living in impoverished homes in a far better manner than the district does. Focus on the foundational problem of why Rochester district educated children cannot break the bonds of poverty, which is why Rochester is the nation’s third poorest city. Then, be courageous and show the politicians, individuals, organizations, companies, and boards who are profiting off of keeping our children hurting. Then we can mobilize our village, radically change local K – 12 education, and be able to say, “The children are well.”

    • Exactly correct! If the “village” would only focus on one item, let it be education.

      That said, Today the village is not doing their part in our urban education. Our urban youth is unnecessarily being left behind. No one, not even those responsible for their education seems to care. Decade after decade they fail our kids. In turn the kids become failing adults. Then the rescue programs at great expense are implemented. Those program are barely successful. The result, crime, poverty and generational poverty. This education aint rocket science.

  2. In our postmodern age, there is a false idea promoted that there is no truth. “Truth” is merely a social construction and one person’s truth is as good as another’s. Kellyanne Conway told the press that the Trump administration believed in “alternative facts.”

    Truth is based on knowledge that is valid and reliable and makes it possible to predict future outcomes. Whatever forms future local journalism takes, it should be based truth. Local journalism, to be legitimate and regain the trust of the public, will have to be truth based.

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