When local media outlets vanish, communities become “news deserts” and politicians, corporations and government officials no longer have to worry that the public will get wind of any plans, malfeasance or incompetence that could result in a public backlash.
Those news deserts are being created all over the nation as the digital revolution, corporate greed and short attention spans fueled by social media lay waste to local newspapers and other community media sources. To draw attention to the crisis in community connections, Gov. Steve Sisolak proclaimed Tuesday, Oct. 19, as “Local Journalism Day” in Nevada. On that day, the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno will host “Local News Matters,” a panel discussion starting at 6 p.m. the Nevada Museum of Art to highlight the many challenges facing local news in the Silver State and across the country.
The issue of vanishing local news sources is about more than preserving jobs. It’s about people getting the information they need to go about their everyday lives; being able to make informed choices when they go to polling places; and getting access to the facts necessary to understand the complex issues and decisions that affect their jobs, schools and communities.
What communities lose
“(There are) a lot of stories that aren’t getting covered,” Larry Ryckman, former senior news editor at the Denver Post, told National Public Radio in 2018, as the hedge fund that owns Colorado’s largest newspaper continued its cycle of massive layoffs and cutbacks. “People who aren’t being celebrated. Bad guys who aren’t being exposed. Corruption that isn’t being exposed. We just don’t know. We don’t know what we have lost as a community.”
At the “Local News Matters” event in Reno, Ryckman, now editor of independent digital news organization The Colorado Sun, will provide an overview of the crisis in local news across the country, as well as the ways in which some states are working to support and expand diverse sources of local news.
Ryckman, an alumnus of the Reynolds School, will then moderate a panel of local Nevada journalists, including: Arianna Bennett, anchor and reporter at KTVN News; Michelle Billman, news director at KUNR Public Radio; Bob Conrad, publisher and editor of This is Reno; Brian Duggan, executive editor of the Reno Gazette Journal; and Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez, a reporter at the Nevada Independent.
Question the questioners
Audience members will be invited to ask questions about ways to improve the sustainability of local news. After the formal program, attendees will have a chance to talk with journalists from local journalism organizations, including the Reno News & Review, and share their ideas for sustaining local news during a reception in the atrium of the art museum.
The event is sponsored by the Nevada News Alliance and the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno and is part of the ongoing Cole Campbell Dialogues in Democracy. Local News Matters will be both in-person (limited seating) and available virtually. Interested individuals can reserve tickets through Eventbrite. A Zoom link will be sent the day of the event.
The panel runs from 6 to 7:15 p.m., followed by a reception in the atrium of the museum, with light refreshments and a cash bar. Journalists from nine local news organizations thus far have agreed to stand at tables during the reception to share information about their organizations and answer questions from the public. Those news outlets include: The Reno Gazette-Journal; KUNR/Noticiero Movil; Double Scoop, an online Nevada arts journal; This is Reno; the Nevada Independent; Our Town Reno, a student-run online publication at UNR; KTVN Channel 2; ProPublica; and the Reno News & Review.
The Cole Campbell Dialogues
The late Cole Campbell became the dean of the Reynolds School in 2004, having previously been editor of The Virginian-Pilot and then The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Following his death in a traffic accident in Reno in 2007, an endowment to support ongoing discussion in journalism was created as the Cole Campbell Dialogues on Journalism and Democracy, facilitated by the Reynolds School.
Campbell was one of the first newspaper editors to embrace the idea that journalism should help readers be engaged citizens, an approach sometimes called civic or public journalism. In his obituary in the New York Times, his friend Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, said: “Cole believed journalism should be not just what is going on in civic life, but what you need to know to be engaged — because if you don’t think you can participate in public life, why would you want to read about it in the newspaper?”