Saving local newspapers is only part of what’s needed to resolve the journalism crisis.
Even if there’s a supply of quality local news, there needs to be a demand for it.
Citizens in a democracy also need skills to identify what’s legitimate news. That’s getting harder with the barrage of information they receive, the dwindling supply of professional news and the ever more sophisticated tricks used to manipulate, distort and deceive people.
Education is key to this, especially when it conveys the value and importance of local news and doesn’t focus just on national topics and coverage.
That’s why I’m particularly enthused about new curriculum based on “Storm Lake,” a documentary about a family-owned paper in Iowa.
The film, which I wrote about last year before it appeared at the Seattle International Film Festival, does a wonderful job showing what’s involved in reporting local news, why it’s important and how such papers are fighting for survival.
The curriculum is being provided by the News Literacy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, in partnership with the film’s producers with support from PBS and Microsoft.
“When ‘Storm Lake’ was first released we heard about the film through one of our longtime advisers who told us it was rich with news literacy learning opportunities, and something we should definitely have on our radar,” Peter Adams, senior vice president of education at the nonprofit, told me via email.
The curriculum and film are being made available for free on a special website for educators. There’s also a free viewers guide with similar material for anyone, including people participating in “Storm Lake” viewing events.
It presents questions for people to consider before watching the film, such as what is news? What role does news play in your family members’ lives and in your community? Is news important in democracy?
The material suggests viewers follow-up by keeping a log of what news they read, watch or listen to for a week, then consider the role it plays in their community, the quality of coverage and what topics they’d like covered more.
For teachers who might be starting to prepare lesson plans for this fall, the timing is good. It might be of interest to teachers of civics, journalism, political science and American history, all of which intersect with local news and are affected by its potential collapse.
Local newsletter report: Poynter.org explores the rise of local news newsletters such as Axios Local and whether they can truly “save local news.” The story includes skeptical comments by me, drawing in part on a January column. Not mentioned is that Axios Local just rolled out a membership model, asking readers of its free local newsletters for donations, despite its parent company having raised $57 million from venture capitalists and billionaire financiers, per Crunchbase.
Post-Roe press freedoms: Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Gabe Rottman warns of press freedom clashes that may follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs ruling on abortion. Post Dobbs, reporting about abortion issues will in many ways resemble reporting on things like military secrets, corruption “or any other beat where promising confidentiality to a source is necessary to tell a story.” Rottman is an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Kristof resumes column: Following a scuttled run for Oregon governor, Nicholas Kristof is returning to The New York Times and resuming his column. The multiple Pulitzer Prize winning journalist left the paper last year to run for office but was deemed ineligible by Oregon’s residency requirements.
Now living in his hometown of Yamhill, Kristof donated $990,000 raised by his campaign to a political action committee, Oregon Strong, led by his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, Oregon Public Broadcasting 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.