Looking for some more inspiration to save local journalism? Here are two films and a webinar for folks who’d like to feed their head with ideas about our democracy’s Fourth Estate.
Let’s start with some escapist inspiration.
Deadline – U.S.A.
This 1952 noir-style film stars Humphrey Bogart as a crusading editor and Kim Hunter as the girlfriend who dumped him when he wouldn’t break up with his mistress: the newsroom.
The story – a paper standing up to a gangster – is one you want every citizen of a democracy to watch. It will sharpen appetites for documentary evidence, dogged reporting and courageous newsrooms that put the public interest first. As with any newsroom drama, a hungry competitor threatens to shut the paper down.
Shot in black and white, it runs 87 minutes.
You can find it on YouTube here.
“Sustained Outrage” features Eric Eyre of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail in a 26-minute documentary from Season 5 of PBS’ “Reel South” series.
Eyre isn’t a household name, but he is a hero to his thousands of peers who hold government accountable at newspapers so small they risk extinction every time they infuriate the local powers that be. The winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, he spent 17 years tracking down the story of prescription drug abuse, while still writing daily stories and shouldering his share of night shifts. “Sustained Outrage” is streamed by your local PBS station or on Reel South’s site here.
Buzzkill Warning: As is so often true with stories about local investigative journalism, no good deed goes unpunished.
By the time you’ve watched these two, you may be inspired to do something about the disappearance of local journalism and this webinar can help you focus that energy.
Webinar: “Will local journalism survive the pandemic?”
Sponsored by Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C. non-profit group involved in digital marketplace debates, “Will local journalism survive the pandemic?” is a one-hour panel discussion featuring leaders in the local journalism movement defining the crisis and describing solutions that will be proposed to Congress and to citizens.
To watch the recording of the whole hour, start here.
Here are the key bits from each panelist:
Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy fellow at Public Knowledge said the challenge of the coming weeks will be to encourage Congress and other policy-makers to look beyond the capital-heavy business models of traditional media.
The pandemic crisis has demonstrated that local journalists are in fact on the front line, providing information necessary to keep the public safe, said Joaquin Alvarado, Executive Director of the Seattle Times Project Accelerate. Late in the discussion, he said only the federal government is big enough to preserve the thousands of newsroom jobs that will disappear due to advertising losses caused by the nationwide lockdown.
Steve Waldman, president of Report for America, a national service program that places early-career journalists in local newsrooms, said Congress needs to move quickly to pay for reporters working in local newsrooms. “Fast, big, messy, blunt instrument steps are going to have to be a part of that, but we really want to do this in a way that actually creates a better system than what we had.”
Frances Draper, CEO of The AFRO, a Baltimore newspaper company serving the African American community, said proposals to spend federal dollars to prop up newsrooms will face resistance because politicians have gone to war against the media.
Craig Aaron, co-CEO of Free Press Action, said a billion-dollar bail-out of local media will amount to a tiny percentage of the trillions spent on economic stimulus this month. “The absolute top priority is emergency targeted funding for newsroom workers. I would like to see us devote $50k per newsroom job.” Aaron said platforms like Google and Facebook should pay for it and that some of the current attention on local news should be used to drive hedge funds, which own the biggest newspaper chains, out of the business. “This is an investment in the health of democracy.”