Friday, July 17, 2015

From Cleveland to Amish Country, local news is alive and kicking

By Patricio Contreras

In a post published a couple of years ago, Jay Rosen argued that journalism is a solution to the problem of space. If you have a small village, he wrote, news goes from mouth to mouth. People can connect with each other because their small settlement allows them to do it. But, if the village grows to the size of a town, well, then you need a solution to the condition of “not being there”.

Journalism —reporters, newsrooms, people and organizations that tell stories— are part of that solution. “Journalism permits us to live as creatures of our time and make peace with the awayness of things within some community we identify with,” says Rosen.

In our recent trip through the State of Ohio we had the chance to meet some of the strategies, editorial guidelines, journalism practices and business difficulties that local news outlets face every day. It is the struggle of editors, reporters and other media related professionals to reach their audience in times when print publications and legacy media are being challenged by the digital tsunami.

In Cleveland, the so called “Rock and Roll capital of the World”, we went to two different outlets, but each one with an specific focus in local.

In WOIO channel, a CBS affiliate, we walked around the newsroom, the control room and the TV set. The newsroom was almost empty during the morning, cause all the reporters are out in the streets. A true example of shoe-leather reporting. We also learnt about the importance of weather reports, one of the main reasons why people watch TV. In local news in America, the weatherman is the co star with the anchor. That is was we saw at 19 Action News.

This news organization has a big opportunity to grow: only in June they received 11 million mobile visitors. One of the media managers we met said that television still has the biggest audience you can find in this country and they are optimistic of the future because of that reason.

Local TV news around the United States are doing very well. According to the State of the News Media 2015, “Local television stations enjoyed a year of higher revenue and slightly higher viewership in 2014.” The advertisement revenue grew in 2014, reaching $20 billion.

In the outskirts of the city is the headquarter of the Call and Post newspaper, a weekly publication that was started in 1916 and it’s now owned by Don King, the famous boxing promoter.

For them, “black news is the news”. There is no shortest way to sintetize their editorial approach. For almost a hundred years this newspaper has given space for the most influential voices for African Americans in the State of Ohio.

Most of their revenue —around 90 percent— comes from advertisement. In the past the Call and Post cost was 75 cents; now is half a dollar. Pretty weird for a print media environment that sees how the prices go up in every major newspaper.

South of Cleveland we had a third “close encounter of the local-news kind.” In Sugarcreek, a village in Tuscarawas County, we met with Keith Rathbun, the editor in chief of The Budget, one of the most rare examples of community journalism.

The Budget serves the locals at Sugarcreek but also to the Amish communities around the United States. Local, but at the same time not so local. Their mode of production must be unique. Amish folks send their accounts, written by hand, and the staff of the newspaper transcribe them to a digital format. Pages and pages of common issues: weather, buggy accidents, weddings.

Common issues that are relevant to this community. Through The Budget, Amish people provide a solution to the problem of space. They are reporters of their own lives. This is an interesting case of a local and uncommon journalistic experience.

One last thought: The Budget looks like a relic of the nineteenth century. I shoot this short video at Midwest Offset print facility in order to preserve the memory —and my memory— of a process that slowly seems to say goodbye, but refuses to utter that last word.

No comments: