Thoughtful readers in Magnolia recently sent a welcome but bracing note.
It reminded me of a time in my early teens, when my grandmother diplomatically suggested using deodorant. I was grateful for the candor.
“Because your mandate is fairly narrow it is unsurprising to discover some repetition in your comments, and as time passes it is inevitable that flow will increase, to the extent to cause distraction and boredom,” these subscribers wrote.
They suggested highlighting prizewinning investigative journalism, to let those stories make the case for saving local journalism.
“We’d love to read these fascinating pieces. Could you refreshen in this manner?” they wrote.
This is an excellent suggestion. I don’t have space here to reprint full investigative articles but will try to more frequently share examples that make the case.
Here are several examples from the latest edition of Local Matters, the online newsletter I wrote about in August that compiles local investigative stories. These haven’t yet won prizes but will be contenders in future contests.
- An Arizona veterans charity was created by a man who lied about his military service and used the nonprofit as a scheme to con veterans, The Arizona Republic reported.
- Arizona’s governor ran on the promise of cutting red tape and claims he’s eliminated thousands of regulations, but during his time in office he created two more rules for each one he cut, a team of reporters at The Republic and public radio station KJZZ found after analyzing 3,760 changes in regulation.
- Twenty-two people died in Georgia’s understaffed and poorly resourced county jails last year after they were transferred in from psychiatric centers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
- Despite state laws in Pennsylvania, some former public school teachers convicted of sex crimes involving students are still collecting a taxpayer-funded pension, the Bucks County Courier Times reported.
- Michigan jail officials emptied a juvenile facility of about 120 young residents after Detroit Free Press reporters exposed complaints of teens being deprived of basic care, including daily showers, recreation time and medication.
- A South Carolina judge urged sheriff’s deputies to “make stuff up” to justify an arrest of a man who was causing a disturbance in the judge’s neighborhood, The Post and Courier found after obtaining recordings of the incident.
- Staff at Oregon State Hospital were assaulted on a daily basis while hospital management had no training on accident prevention, the Salem Statesman Journal learned after obtaining a state investigative report.
- At least 18 churches seemingly violated federal law by participating in political campaigns, some going so far as to describe candidates as demonic, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported. But federal investigators haven’t intervened.
That’s just a partial list of stories called out by one edition of Local Matters. It selects a dozen or so investigative pieces from the thousands of stories reported every week by local news outlets.
Despite all this great work across the country, newspaper closures are expected to accelerate unless interventions are found to help save the local news industry.
“We’re now losing an average of two local news outlets every week, and that pace will certainly accelerate if we see the recession that many economists predict,” Tim Franklin, local news chair at Northwestern University’s Medill School, told Poynter.org recently.
Tactical philanthropy: A new analysis of tech platforms’ journalism grants in Canada, by the Tow Center at Columbia University, “shows how Google’s and Meta’s respective support has fluctuated as threats of regulatory intervention mount in Canada. This gives some weight to the argument that the ‘philanthropy’ of the platforms is a lobbying tactic, aimed at holding back further legislation,” Tow research fellow Gabby Miller writes at Columbia Journalism Review.
Zombie papers: NPR reports on a proliferation of “right-wing zombie papers” attacking Democratic candidates in Illinois. The erosion of local news “has created an opening for these newer publications, which lie dormant and then spring up at election time. They look a lot like hometown newspapers — nothing flashy, just long, printed broadsheet pages with color photos and graphics — but without any real interest in local news,” David Folkenflik reports.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website.