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We need more journalists, not fewer — you can help

Awhile back, the New York Times did a great feature in which they interviewed laid-off journalists and asked them about the stories they were working on when they got the axe, the stories their communities never got to see because their employers needed to save money.

There was the Anaheim, California story on Disney Resorts’ efforts to escape requirements that they provide their employees a living wage in exchange for tax breaks. The New Orleans story on the experimental move to turn an entire school district into charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The fallout from the closure of the General Motors plant in Youngstown, Ohio.

“I was in the middle of the reporting, and every time I think about it, I feel guilty,” said a Dallas, Texas reporter forced to scrap a story about an elderly couple struggling to sell their home next to an airport the city wanted to expand (read the full Times report here: https://tinyurl.com/yd7pcq55).

That was in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic ripped through the global economy, drying up advertising dollars and forcing tens of thousands of new journalist layoffs and furloughs. Back when the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics forecast a 10% decline in reporter jobs between 2018 and 2028 (https://tinyurl.com/y9a6d2n4), a forecast that now seems optimistic.

Even in normal times, community journalists perform hugely important work. They hold to account local governments to which no statewide or national paper would pay attention. They honor local athletes who wouldn’t catch the attention of a big-city sports desk. They write about the nonprofits no statewide paper has time to follow.

And, for all the vitriol against the media, that work matters to readers.

The Times paired its laid-off journalists story with another featuring interviews with residents of towns where newspapers have closed (https://tinyurl.com/wq85ypl). My favorite quote? “After years without a strong local voice, our community does not know itself … We are a nameless and faceless town defined only by neighborhoods.”

Dual demons of the Great Recession and a broken business model overly reliant on advertising that is shifting to other media have created what one researcher called “ghost papers,” places where a paper still runs off the press but the newsroom is so gutted it’s only a shadow of its former self (https://tinyurl.com/y9k72zu7).

Those are voids no one else can fill. Your friends on Facebook or that friendly neighborhood blogger who shows up to the city council meetings simply lack the expertise, time, training, and gravitas to tell the stories a professional journalist can tell. And, quite frankly, they are more prone to spread rumors, innuendo, and outright falsehoods.

The value of newspapers is even more obvious in the pandemic.

Were it not for the professional, award-winning team here at The News, the community would never have known the first person in our region confirmed infected with the coronavirus was a paramedic, or how the virus spread through MediLodge of Alpena. The local health department couldn’t provide that information, but our journalists did what they do and got it out.

The state started reporting nursing home infections only after enduring weeks of pressure from journalists statewide.

Without The News, our community wouldn’t know which local businesses received small business grants through the trillions of dollars Congress is spending to soften the economic blow of the pandemic. Target Alpena was reluctant to release that info until pressed by one of our reporters.

In fact, so many of the stories we’ve told during the outbreak — parents’ struggles accessing online education, the hurt of the Great Lakes shipping industry, the happy features like the bus driver sending notes to the kids she doesn’t get to see anymore — simply wouldn’t be told without The News.

And, by the by, newspaper advertising still works. In 2017, a Michigan State University study found 86% of local media consumers use inserts and 76% prefer those inserts to be in newspapers, according to the News Media Alliance (https://tinyurl.com/y98vsqj4).

We need more journalists, not fewer, and we need you to do that.

That’s why The News has raised its single copy price to $1 for weekdays and $1.50 for the weekend edition, bringing us more in line with what other papers charge (though we continue to offer more than other papers, such as a daily Lifestyles page). That’s why we now limit access to our online stories only to subscribers (except for coronavirus coverage, which remains free to all).

Subscription prices are not changing.

Local news matters, and it needs you.

Subscribe today. If you already have a subscription, buy one for a friend or family member. Take out an ad. A classified ad.

Help us continue telling your story.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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