Newspapers continue to provide continuous coverage of key institutions such as provincial legislatures. Here, Winnipeg Free Press staff look over budget documents at the Manitoba Legislature. From left, multimedia producer Kristin Annable, web editor Graeme Bruce, legislative reporter Larry Kusch and Associate Editor Scott Gibbons, seated. (Photo: Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press).
“You can find a flood of information online at any given moment about crime and punishment, but if you want to find out about the woman who was stabbed in a parking lot in your neighborhood, you are going to have to turn to local news media,” writes Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press and chair of the Canadian Newspaper Association.
Newspapers like the Free Press, founded 144 years ago, have become so much a part of the fabric of their communities that they are taken for granted by many of the people who depend on them. People simply expect local coverage, Cox notes. However, while drowning in media generally, people do not realize traditional local news media are rapidly disappearing.
Classified advertising has all but disappeared as people go online to post free items about the used bicycle they want to sell or an apartment to rent. Local merchants spend on Google or Facebook, sending money to the coffers of large American firms rather than keeping it in their own communities. Local journalism is left to fend for itself.
At the same time, there is no shortage of information about local happenings. The explosion of social media means you can find out all sorts of things about what is going on in your community. If a bad car accident occurs in rush hour, there are likely to be photos on Twitter before police arrive. The Winnipeg Jets are more than happy to send out video of scoring plays from games and team updates.
“But a community is not well informed by getting sporadic, random reports about things that happen, or by getting the ‘official’ version of events supplied by a sports team or a government or a corporation. After tweeting a photo, another motorist simply continues on to work. Only a journalist follows up to look at how the accident happened, how safe the intersection is or whether that particular model of vehicle has faulty brakes,” Cox writes.
So-called “citizen journalism” is not a substitute. “This sort of information is not like continuing coverage from a media outlet. The person who posts photos from all the high school football games this season is not around next season because his son has graduated. The person who tweets about a bad experience at a restaurant is likely to be the person who had the experience and is unlikely to tell the restaurant owner’s side of the story,” says Cox.
And this unpaid army is not easily held accountable, unlike paid journalists working for a media outlet. Organized journalism is required for a community to be fully informed with balanced, responsible and continuing coverage.
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