Why Community Journalism Matters (OP-ED)

Print More
Est. Read Time: 4 mins

There’s an interesting free article about inequality on Aeon. If egalitarianism and sharing reigned among homo sapiens for tens of thousands of years, it asks, why only in the last few thousand years have things changed? Why are we so unequal today?

And what does this have to do with Saucon Valley? Bear with me a bit on that last one.

Blaming “human nature” for inequality gets us nowhere. To the contrary, anthropologists think the establishment of clans and primitive forms of information technology (stories, pictographs, writing, etc.) allowed the rise of elites who could control stored resources. Knowledge may be power, but those who control information control knowledge, too.

Aeon’s article, filled with good info, is free. Just as this article you’re now reading is. (Aeon is a high-quality online magazine of ideas run by a registered as a 501(c)(3) charity.) Not to be supercilious, but I can actually sell my writing, and often do, yet I’m happy to donate my skills to Saucon Source once in a while. Knowing what I know about the state of local journalism in the USA, it’s a small way of pitching in. My wife and I also give Saucon Source LLC a little money each month as a way to support local journalism.

Community journalism involves a set of knowledge-skills every bit as societally important and hard to learn as good carpentry or probate law.

That’s why I react with a mix of nausea and puzzlement when I see some of the reader comments on the Saucon Source Facebook page; part of a 100 percent free local news source.

In the last year, these comments—which are technically the property of Facebook, just like everything else posted on it (remember what I said about information and inequality?)—have at times taken on a very personal, ugly tone. Facebook has become infamous for tacit encouragement of such little hatefests, and its shadowy community moderators do almost nothing, in my experience, to discourage them.

It’s not OK to treat working journalists themselves, personally, with disrespect. When readers level meritless personal attacks, however, that’s what they’re doing.

We’re not talking about good-faith critiques of any journalistic malpractice. There are no rationales offered, no arguments, no syllogistic reasoning. These are ad hominem, mocking jabs at journalists and sometimes other readers, often not-so-subtly laced with hatred as well as confusion about basic facts that only stokes further division. The problem has grown to where many U.S. news organizations have ended readers’ comments entirely. Saucon Source soldiers on, sharing important local stories on its Facebook page, where the responses don’t always reflect the best of our community.

Meanwhile, news deserts continue to grow in America. They are associated with economic stagnation and cultural erosion at the community level. News deserts are also hives of inequality; places where political corruption, crime and economic exploitation all grow. A news desert doesn’t mean information doesn’t exist. It means that elites horde information and use it to exploit those without it. Good journalism frees and democratizes information.

Only fools will suggest that cliquey local message boards, social media, or worse, governmental websites, can replace community journalism, and quality journalism is harder than it looks. It requires advanced training, time and money to produce.

We need intelligent news in order to help keep local officials accountable, and because we also happen to live in one of the most corrupt states in the republic. Once, a couple years ago, I recall hearing a rather self-impressed local public powerbroker critiquing a local media outlet, and I thought to myself that if nothing else, its editor must be doing their job.

We’re in an era where community news must also be open, technologically agile and financially entrepreneurial to survive. A big social media presence; sponsored stories; advertising; a system of taking donations; podcasting; a willingness to keep local businesses firmly in the spotlight; a dogged dedication to crime or disaster news (“If it bleeds, it leads” is one of the oldest adages of the industry)—these are all basics in 2021 for community news organizations like Saucon Source.

This openness creates opportunities for visionaries as well as provocateurs, which is why it’s become increasingly clear to me that only a system of partial public funding will save community news. That system can’t conflict with the First Amendment, which will take some doing. Still, “the labourer is worthy of his hire,” and operations such as Saucon Source are well-poised to help create a new model for making sure we have an impartially informed citizenry.

We all have things we dislike about the way our community gets covered in the media, whether it’s Rolling Stone, the Morning Call or Saucon Source. Write a letter to the editor, if that’s the case. If you’re really upset, start your own publication. But we need to value community news we possess—and perhaps even show a little humility and respect for it. A community without community news, take it from me, is a dying community.

Support your local journalism! There are plenty of things I don’t like about local coverage, but the alternative of a news desert is too grim to contemplate.

Bill Broun is a writer who lives in Hellertown. For more about him, visit BillBroun.com.

Leave a Review or Comment