Where do you get local news and information? How do you find out where to vote, how to enroll a kid for school, why your property taxes are going up, or when that roadwork will be done?
Odds are that you rely on the Delaware Independent and other local media outlets for the basic information you need and want. (And if you say you get your information on social media, keep in mind that some local reporter still has to research and write the articles before they show up on Facebook.)
But the news industry is struggling, and access to local information is dwindling. To help figure out how we can improve it, you’re invited to join us for a virtual Community Conversation on Feb. 23, hosted by the Local Journalism Initiative, a new nonprofit organization.
Why does it matter? Why should you care about local news?
Let me start with a little personal history: I started working in journalism right out of college. My first job as a newspaper reporter took me to sleepy little Ashland, Massachusetts. Every council meeting, every school board meeting – even zoning committee meetings – I was there.
Public officials knew who I was, knew I was watching, and knew the community paid attention. One story about an undisclosed contract extension for the town manager even cost someone an election.
That was 20 years ago, when nearly every small town in America had a local newspaper keeping watch on public officials and holding them accountable, in addition to covering parades and arts festivals, providing updates about local businesses, and sharing the occasional feature that helped us understand our neighbors a little better.
Today, local news is in crisis. And that’s bad news for all of us.
Research tells us that the loss of strong, independent, local journalism results in higher taxes, lower voter turnout, more unsolved crimes, fewer people running for office, and the loss of connection and empathy for our neighbors. Data shows that this phenomenon is hitting communities of color particularly hard.
There’s no silver bullet, no magic trick to reviving the news industry as it was. We need to find a new path forward.
So, last year, a group of former journalists, community leaders and funders in Delaware came together to launch the Local Journalism Initiative to focus on finding new ways to rebuild some of what has been lost.
This Community Conversation is part of our research, along with a text message survey, focus groups and interviews with people all over Delaware. We’ll share results in the spring.
In the meantime, we’re working on a few projects we believe will help increase local news and information throughout the First State.
It starts with strengthening the local news that outlets we already have.
Last summer, we embedded four young journalists with media organizations around the state to help cover underserved communities, in partnership with the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association and the Delaware Community Foundation. This summer, we’re doing it again.
We’re also working on building a new statewide journalism collaborative to help local news outlets work together to provide deeper, broader news and information to benefit all of our communities.
But we have more to do to ensure that Delawareans have access to high-quality, independent, trustworthy local news and information – about everything from who’s running for office, when that new restaurant is opening, how the state senators voted on the budget bill, and more.
What news and information do Delawareans need most, and how do they want to get it?
That’s what we want to hear from you. So please register today at ljidelaware.org/conversation, and join us on Feb. 23. Your voice matters in the future of local news and information.
Allison Taylor Levine is president and founder of the Local Journalism Initiative and vice president for marketing and communications at the Delaware Community Foundation. Reach her at email@example.com or visit ljidelaware.org for more information.