Monday, March 16, 2015

Local News Coverage: There But Thinner

When I started writing this blog, there were two, and sometimes three, reporters covering local events.  The Baltimore Sun would send a reporter, the Flier would send a reporter, and Patch would have their "jack-of-all-trades" editor-reporter-delivery-person.  It was common to have the opportunity to see one event through the perspective of 4-5 people, particularly if a blogger attended as well.  Vain politicos could review each account to see if their pithy quote made the coverage.  A disinterested article could be differentiated from the reporter who knew how this event fit in context.  It was a multicolored tapestry that gave local news-watchers the impression that they were keeping up with things.

Over the past six years, I've seen five different people in the role of "local political reporter", some for as short as one month (we barely knew you, Jessica Anderson).  I've made a habit of taking each one of them out for a beer when they start their watch.  One of them even sought me out for a meeting shortly after starting in Howard (thank you, Blair).  I always say we are blessed with great reporters in Howard County.  They are certainly young, but they "get it".  They are less enamored with "Columbia/Howard County" then some of the old salts who have covered this place, and while that's probably a good thing, every lost bit of glimmer is lost context.

You see, Howard County loves itself.  The reason we have such a successful blog culture, and readers who make it worthwhile, is because those who live in Howard County are self-fascinated.  I mean that in the least derogatory way possible, but can tell you from experience that there is no truer description of our consumption of local news.  We still have a Howard section in the newspaper, our free weekly paper is one of the best in the Country, and there is a political notebook article written every week about what can normally be summarized as "the actions of six people".  That's not by accident.  It's because this media is consumed.

Unfortunately, demand does not correlate to value when it comes to local journalism.  The Flier and The Sun are getting smaller and their reporters are getting paid the same.  While we may lament the low pay of teachers and other public service employees, I would include local journalists in that number.  This makes it all unsustainable.  Local coverage is not on a good path.  It is not inconceivable to see a future five years from now where coverage of local events is cherry-picked based on salient controversy with one reporter covering numerous jurisdictions.  The coverage will still be there, but it will become thinner.  The article will become indistinguishable from the press release.  Context will be in the eyes of the beholder.  Public trust in our electeds will fill the void previously filled with investigation, accountability, and scrutiny.

I attended the "goodbye" party for Luke Lavoie on Friday.  He has always been one of my favorite reporters.  Wicked smart.  It may as well have been a retirement party; an odd thing to have before you're 30.

Have a great Monday doing what you love.