I left the newsstand feeling depressed. True, the Saturday paper was never robust; as a young delivery boy, I welcomed Saturdays for the lighter load upon bony shoulders. My funk wasn’t about weight; it was about content. That entire Saturday paper, slim as it was, had precisely one local news story.
I don’t blame the local staff. I’ve known many of them for years, and they’re a dedicated, professional crew. Many times I’ve been on the receiving end of their pointed questions. Rather, I worry about their non-local corporate masters who believe the future of local journalism is doing less of it.
This week’s announcement from MLive Media Group confirms a trend I’ve noticed (and complained about) for quite some time: the move from a local news focus to a regional model. In this case, “regional” appears to mean statewide, as stories from every MLive outlet routinely show up in my local feed. (The most expensive house sold on Reeds Lake, 60 miles away. Heavy snow expected in Muskegon, 90 miles away. People shooting deer in Ann Arbor, 100 miles away.)
Meanwhile, MLive Media Group believes it can do more with less. The announcement included a plan to eliminate 29 positions from its eight Michigan outlets and rearrange assignments for remaining staff, many of them going from local to regional or statewide roles. It’s hard to fathom how overworked, underpaid journalists can shed the kind of sunshine that’s needed when there are fewer of them, especially on local beats.
In my hometown, we still have active electronic media that report local news. I rely on them daily. Indeed, their value increases as the daily newspaper fades. But their immediate nature precludes the broad perspective and thoughtful, constructive community dialogue that was once the hallmark of the local press—a type of dialogue nowhere to be found in online comment sections or on Facebook pages.
As Columbia Journalism Review’s Anna Clark pointed out in her excellent analysis, Michigan is the state in greatest need of solid journalism. Lead-tainted water in Flint, opaque policies around political advertising and financial records, and a shocking new state law aimed at quashing informed voting all underscore this ugly fact. As I mourn the fade-to-black of local news reporting, I hold out hope that the rejuvenated MLive will turn its increasingly slim attention to these issues rather than its quest for the Best Pizza in Michigan.