Guest Commentary: Why Local News Matters

By Allison Taylor Levine

Allison Taylor Levine is President and Founder of the Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware and Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Delaware Community Foundation. This was first published by Delaware Business Magazine.

It’s nothing new that the news is in trouble. Your morning paper is thinner than it used to be. Important elections are creeping up on you. You hear rumors about something happening down the street or around the corner and the lack of coverage makes you wonder what to believe.

We hear about staff cuts; we miss independent reporting on education, business and development; and we strive to find up-to-date information about the state and local government of Delaware. However, there are still many fine journalists living and working in the First State, and our news organizations have sought to minimize the impact on news gathering as their traditional business models have collapsed over the past two decades. But there’s no euphemism for local news and coverage of the loss.

And the effects of these losses are felt by everyone in our business community.

Strong, independent local journalism is closely linked to quality of life. Research tells us that where there are fewer journalists working, businesses and citizens pay higher taxes, more unsolved crimes occur, fewer people vote, social cohesion dwindles and injustice increases.

These are the issues that make it difficult for companies to attract and retain high-quality employees – particularly among the younger professionals that every business community desires. The same is true for location selectors evaluating Delaware as a location for business.

Almost every query starts with a Google search. When someone viewing Delaware from the outside cannot readily access independent information about public safety, schools, housing, the arts, public parks, transportation, and other infrastructure, it becomes increasingly difficult to generate enthusiasm for the First State.

Of course, information can be found from local chambers of commerce or organizations like the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, but a strong, independent news community brings its data to life in the form of stories. For example, you might hear that Wilmington has an active and growing arts and entertainment scene, but theater reviews, nightlife calendars, and lively arts coverage make it alluring.

The lack of local news is especially hard on businesses — including nonprofits — in small communities. With the demise of smaller outlets like Hockessin Community News, Middletown Transcript, and Delaware Wave, who is reporting on businesses in these communities? Stories are not told. New restaurants are not screened. Historic anniversaries of family businesses pass without mention. Fewer people know what’s going on on their street.

I told you this is not a news story. This is a trending story. But trends can change.

The Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware is a new nonprofit organization working to strengthen Delaware’s local news and information ecosystem and bring our community back together.

We are pursuing multiple strategies, both supporting our existing local news organizations—legacy media outlets with unmatched reach and resources that our communities simply cannot afford to lose—while exploring new ways to fill historical gaps in coverage.

A significant step is the formation of the new Delaware Journalism Collaborative, funded by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network. The collaboration involves 18 Delaware newsrooms and five community organizations pooling resources to help the community understand key local challenges and engage in conversations to address them.

We also support a local journalist internship program in partnership with the Delaware Community Foundation and the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association. This program — which has so far placed six interns with news organizations across Delaware — is helping increase coverage of historically underserved communities and creating a stronger pipeline of reporters of color for local news operations.

We also recently completed a statewide assessment of Delaware’s news and information ecosystem. This study identifies the geographic and demographic communities that have the greatest need for quality reporting and highlights key ways we can improve access to news and information across the state.

The most important finding of this study? Delawareans want and need more independent local news and information. You need it to function, fully participate in our democracy, and strengthen all of the connections that make Delaware a great place to live, work, and play.

Armed with this research and ongoing input from the community, the Local Journalism Initiative is now developing strategies to fill the gaps. We invite you to learn more about our work on our website ljidelaware.org and to share your insights by contacting me at [email protected]



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