Journalism in Central America helped communities weather the pandemic

Through Guillaume Thomas Mari, Louisiana State University

News of the pandemic’s devastating effect on journalism was carried by headlines across the country, telling newsroom closings, layoffs and leaves.

Journalism was in trouble in 2020. In fact, it had been in trouble for some time.

But how have so many local news agencies – especially newspapers – managed to survive the pandemic? Weekly newspapers have increased their daily coverage of online news, business models have exploded, and the existing justifications for which journalism issues have become more than theoretical for rural journalists.

Their determination to survive and serve as a public health lifeline for their communities fueled an oral history project that my colleague Teri finneman and I led, interviewing 28 reporters in seven central states. We learned how local and family newspapers got through COVID-19.

“There were times when we had to contact mayors and different towns and communities across the state… to make sure… they knew that [journalists] were considered essential workers, ”said Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. This label exempted journalists from stay-at-home orders and identified them as essential to their communities.

There were no easy answers. Not in Louisiana, where I teach journalism at Louisiana State University. Not just anywhere.

Tell a story

Oral history captures the first impressions of history for those living today, thinking back to what just happened. It helps people understand the present and how to get out of a crisis. But it also records events for academics and citizens in the future.

“Always remember that when you publish these stories in your journal, you are printing the history of your community,” Amy Johnson, editor of the Springview Herald in Nebraska, tell us.

Benny Polacca from Osage news in Oklahoma told us something similar: He encouraged reporters covering a future pandemic to “do your due diligence in order to come up with a certain type of understanding, a certain type of argument, a certain type of focus, if you had to report or research the time of COVID-19[FEMININE”

Souvent, c’est le journalisme sur les côtes qui retient l’attention des chercheurs. Le New York Times, le Washington Post, le Los Angeles Times – ces grandes agences d’information font constamment l’objet d’articles.

En discutant avec des journalistes du Dakota du Nord, du Dakota du Sud, du Nebraska, du Kansas, de l’Oklahoma, de l’Arkansas et de la Louisiane, notre projet a repoussé cette tendance à ignorer le milieu de la nation et son important journalisme. Comme une sorte de nouveau travailleur essentiel, les journalistes se sont retrouvés chargés d’expliquer les directives compliquées des autorités étatiques et locales sur COVID-19, comment les écoles fonctionneraient et où obtenir de l’aide.

« J’espère qu’à travers cela, notre rôle de journaliste, ils [the public] realize how important it is that the information we put out, you know, how it affects them every day, ”Johnson said.

Kansas Press Association Executive Director Emily Bradbury had a message for those journalists who worked for news outlets increasingly threatened with closure: “I want them to know that in the midst of an emergency, in the midst of an emergency, in the midst of what can seem like a dire situation, when they look at their finances, that what they do is important. And what they do is important, and that no one else can do what they do, and they look after their communities like no one else.

Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, told reporters “what they do matters.” And what they do is important… and they care for their community like no one else. ‘ Will Mari and Teri Finneman, the author provided the photo.

Loans, ancillary activities and transactions

Journalists and editors have found new ways to pay the bills. This meant accepting government grants in the form of Paycheque Protection Program ready. This meant, for some, going door-to-door and asking readers to subscribe, or continue to subscribe. This involved consolidating newspapers, publishing more editions online, or cutting wages.

“People just don’t understand. It costs a lot of money and time to do it, and I just wish we – there was more value or people appreciate it or understand the value and cost of really providing this service, ”said Bonita Gooch, editor of The Community Voice, a black newspaper based in Wichita, Kansas.

Some publishers have gone to great lengths to generate income, by creating advertising copy for local businesses or by doing marketing.

TO The Kingfisher Times & Free Press in Oklahoma, for example, Christine Reid, the newspaper’s editor, created advertisements for a local vocational and technical school. “I also tried using this as a way to… generate more ads for the newspaper,” Reid said.

Some newspapers have advertising deals with local businesses like consumers bought more locally.

Local publishers have done everything to stay afloat. Like some of our first results showed, which showed both an opportunity and a reluctance to change.

“We’re going to have to rely less on ad revenue and more on subscription revenue, so we have to make sure we’re delivering a unique product that they want to pay for,” said Letti Lister, President and Editor of the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, South Dakota.

We saw signs of hope, as journalists garnered financial and moral support from their readers in a turbulent election. “If anything, it’s got the troops, if you will, in our community because they trust us, they know we’re going to report the news in a timely manner and keep the public in the know,” said Amy Wobbema, editor of the New Rockford Transcript in North Dakota. Arguably most of the coverage was calm and stable.

But there were still hesitations about what newspapers should do to adapt. Some journalists are uncomfortable with receiving government funding and would prefer to rely on community support.

As Dave Bordewyk, Executive Director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association write it: “Kind of, ‘Look, contribute to our newspaper… because if you appreciate this importance of local news and journalism, then we need your support beyond just subscribing to the newspaper or the newspaper. advertisement, which has disappeared. ‘ “

Ultimately, the pandemic showed that more research needs to be done on journalism in rural areas – we have only managed to speak to a fraction of the total number of small town journalists and editors. Other researchers have already learned that local journalism helps reduce violent partisanship and strengthens institutions. To be clear, researchers have defined violent partisanship as the willingness to resort to physical altercations to resolve differences – good local journalism channels this energy to peaceful and democratic ends. Other researchers found that institutions like courts and local governments gain increased legitimacy due to local news. Further scientific attention will likely reveal other benefits that the public is not yet aware of.

“This is what we hope for. What I hope will come out of this is that readers can understand this, and can… have a renewed value on what it is. [local] publication did for their community during this pandemic, ”Bradbury told us.

Guillaume Thomas Mari, Assistant Professor of Media Law and Media History, Louisiana State University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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