Keeping Our Communities Informed As Local News Becomes Obsolete

Posted by Dana Heiman
On February 12, 2021
In Blog

For many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, the days of the newspaper being delivered daily to our front door is most likely a very distant memory — from receiving the morning news via The Inquirer and/or the late afternoon news from the Evening Bulletin.

Flash forward decades later. Nowadays, we access our news in the palm of our hands literally every second of every day. At first, many Philadelphians were die-hard print readers not ready to quit their Philadelphia Inquirer or Sunday NY Times, but gradually and over time, many of us have given up print news. Instead, we now rely solely on the Internet, with daily news posts that continue to land in overflowing in-boxes, oftentimes in overwhelming frequency. We are bombarded with messages from various social media sites, news outlets, blogs and even multiple non-profit organizations. Meanwhile, the younger generations seem to depend on their Apple news feed, Reddit, Twitter, and other social media sites for their news consumption.

Readers Grow Accustomed To Accessing All News Online 24/7

As many of us have converted to reading news articles 100% online, it’s possible you have encountered a barrier that has become quite widespread over the last year or two — that you are limited to a certain number of complimentary articles depending upon the news platform.  Certainly, many online readers are taken aback by this, and some may even be a bit disgruntled or perhaps downright annoyed. But if you start to think about it from the perspective of the publishers of these newspapers and magazines that we all have subscribed to for so many years, how can they afford to stay in business, keep their lights on, and pay their journalists if their readership is no longer paying for their content? Coincidentally, as we researched information on this topic, we were confronted with the following statement after clicking on one such publication, “You’ve reached your limit of free articles.” That fact does make you pause and rethink our reading habits and expectations on free versus paid access.

Stories Will Go Unreported As Newspapers Lose The Ability To Cover Important News

The Washington Post recently posted an article titled, “Local newspapers have already been gutted. There’s nothing left to cut.” In it, they outlined just how stories are going unreported. “In July, for example, local hospital operators LifePoint Health and RCCH HealthCare Partners merged in a nearly $6 billion deal that affected roughly 1,000 local employees. The Tennessean covered the story with an Associated Press dispatch written in New York, followed by a local rewrite of a news release at the end of the day. There was no follow-up coverage despite LifePoint’s founder receiving a $70 million exit package and 250 jobs getting eliminated. How did this happen? Years of erosion have damaged the paper’s ability to cover the community. This is true everywhere: Since 1990, nearly 65 percent of all newspaper jobs have been eliminated, more than in the fishing, steel or coal industries.”

According to the Pew Research Center, “Newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers continues to plummet, falling by around half since 2008. But a modest increase in jobs after 2014 in other news-producing sectors — especially digital-native organizations — offset some of the losses at newspapers, helping to stabilize the overall number of U.S. newsroom employees in the last five years.”

Extinction Of Local News Media Could Impact The Local Political Landscape

The societal impact of the death of our local press is truly frightening. If our local papers cease to exist, many of our neighbors won’t know what is happening in their own backyards.  To maintain our civic responsibilities and to be engaged in our local politics, we have relied on our local newspapers to keep us informed. Most importantly, to keep us informed and current regarding where our public officials stand on key matters, highlighting the good news and sharing the not so good news, the passing of members of our community, and just ensuring that we are aware of local events.

BHF Is Positioned To Serve As A Conduit Of Relevant Health Information

The Brandywine Health Foundation is fortunate to have a great partnership with local online news sources, like Vista.Today and Generocity, that have stepped up to the plate in filling this expanding void. We also continue to work closely with publications, like the Daily Local News and the Community Courier, and hope that, although in the minority, they can and will withstand this challenging and changing landscape.

So how does this apply to our work? One of the Brandywine Health Foundation’s guiding principles is that we “Demonstrate accountability, transparency, and integrity as good stewards of the community’s trust and its resources.” In order for us to be good stewards of our donors’ investments in the foundation and in the community, we need to ensure that we continue to be knowledgeable and informed about public health issues, trends, etc. We also need to play a role in building leaders who are prepared to work in local government, whether it’s at a township level, school board level, city council level or other capacity.

Now more than ever, as philanthropy and the foundation sector assume more of the role that government should be playing in lifting up and resolving social issues, we need to remain informed and knowledgeable, as well as current on trends and best practices. We also must continue to keep our friends, supporters and community informed in a timely way in regards to those areas that might be lacking as our local media becomes more obsolete. This pivot to a digital landscape is exciting and allows us to keep our friends and donors informed in real time; all while not leaving behind our constituents who rely on printed communications.

 


As Chief Impact Officer with the Brandywine Health Foundation (BHF), Dana Heiman is in charge of donor engagement and outreach. The Brandywine Health Foundation is a responsive philanthropic organization that focuses on changing the persistent inequities in health care, housing, education, and economic opportunities in the Greater Coatesville, Pennsylvania area.