Where will you go to for local news?

Published 8:32 am Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When the lights go out, will you be in the dark forever?

For more than a century, the Austin Daily Herald has been your beacon as a source of news and information. This is the place where you go to learn more about the stories that matter to your community. Yet, I feel as if local journalism has been taken for granted, and that many have forgotten what an essential role and service community newspapers provide for their town.

Hannah Yang

While I write this, I recall the tragic news that Dodge County lost two of their local newspapers, leaving a hole in coverage for specific communities in the area. Within recent headlines, the Rochester Post Bulletin sold its paper to Forum Communications, with the printing operations getting transferred to Red Wing.

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This may not seem too concerning at first glance, but it’s a troubling trend we are continuing to see in places across the United States, and even in your own backyard. Eventually, many towns may become “news deserts,” where communities will not have consistent local news coverage.

The Associated Press recently released a data analysis compiled by the University of North Carolina that showed more than 1,400 towns and cities in the country lost a newspaper over the past 15 years. Many of those were in rural and lower-income areas with an aging population.

Losing a reliable local news source will affect the community, including the inability to serve as a watchdog for government agencies and elected officials. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, if local newspapers were to die, then voter engagement will decrease, the community will become apathetic to its own democracy, and the cost of living will increase.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet recently stated, “I think most local newspapers in America are going to die in the next five years, except for the ones that have been bought by millionaires.”

With such a grim and outlandish opinion, there was one thing that Baquet seemed to overlook and it’s how a national newspaper gets its “local news” in the first place. If local newspapers go away, then there’s going to be a gap in coverage, whether people want to acknowledge that or not.

Austin, Mower County, the State of Minnesota and the country as a whole deserve to have vibrant, strong newsrooms that are dedicated to telling stories in their communities accurately and efficiently. When larger news organizations come “parachuting” in to get the scoop on stories, their reporters are often people who don’t know anything about the communities they visit. They haven’t built relationships with sources like we have, and they certainly don’t know the full context on what happens in town. They won’t know anything about the vibrant school districts Mower County has, or about the generous people and organizations that consistently go out of their way to improve the towns they serve. They certainly won’t be writing about accomplishments that your child achieved in high school, or do full-length features on someone retiring from a business after working there for 20 plus years.

Our newsroom operates with with an editor (who serves as photographer) and only three reporters We go to public meetings, attend events and put out a daily product. We also work on a bi-monthly magazine at the same time.

If your platform to share important stories for Austin, Blooming Prairie, Lyle, LeRoy, Grand Meadow, Rose Creek, Adams, Brownsdale and Hayfield were to all disappear … who will you go to for your graduation announcements, obituaries and advertisements? Who will come to help you share your stories? Who will be there at those meetings when you’re too tired or too busy to go to in order to hold officials accountable?

As we work in Austin, we know that the people we write about are our neighbors, business partners and friends. We are members of your community, too. We care about the successes and hardships that each city experiences. Their voices deserve to be heard, and we’re usually the first ones there to share their stories.

That’s something that small town newspapers have that bigger outlets cannot replicate from a distance because they don’t know the full scope of the community the way small newspapers do.

I’ve been in the field for only four years, but I’ve seen what the power of community journalism can do, from the announcement of The Hormel Foundation Austin Assurance Scholarship Program to the groundbreaking of the Austin Community Rec Center. We’ve seen the growth of Austin’s diversity, and we’ve been here for the worst of the worst in documenting devastating floods and tragedies involving death and loss.

If our newspaper were to disappear, where will you go for the most accurate, important source of news specifically catered to Austin and surrounding towns? Would you wait for a larger news outlet to come by and maybe report on a story that the Austin Daily Herald could’ve had within a day or two?

You may be left waiting. Many larger news organizations depend on smaller newspapers for coverage ideas. If we’re gone, it’s almost certain no one will know what’s happening in Austin. No one will hear about the everyday amazing things that happen here, rather only about something bad that may happen on occasion if it’s big enough to catch the attention of a big news outlet. You deserve accurate representation of the community you live in by the reporters who are based in your town.

I’m not dismissing the importance of larger outlets either, as their coverage and readership has a farther reach than within the confines of the area we cover. However, we all need to understand that there is a balance. a cycle that would be broken if we lose small town newspapers.

As we continue to adapt to the digital age and the changing demographics of our readership, we need to continue looking ahead at securing a future for your community newspaper, especially during a tumultuous time when many are quick to post opinion as fact and for decrying credible and carefully researched news stories as “fake news” solely based on their disagreeance with pieces of information that don’t align with their beliefs.

The Austin Daily Herald is your community newspaper. True, we may not always get everything happening in our community and you’re absolutely allowed to hold your own opinions and disagree with our coverage. However, we take pride in making sure we do things right and always owning up to any mistakes. We value our readers’ input on stories that matter, and we fight hard to make sure you have the right to know what’s happening in your backyard.

I implore you, please do not take for granted the valuable resource you have in Austin. There are so many stories in Austin and surrounding communities happening, and you, as the reader, deserve to have those told and shared.

Until then, expect us working in the newsroom and continuing to put out the best paper we can every single day. That’s no exaggeration. That’s a fact.