Who Tells the Story: The Case for Our News
By: Payton Williams
If a journalist’s job is to tell the truth, the job of a local journalist is to show how the truth matters to their community.
Over the last few years, every major newspaper in America has decried the horror of the death of the newspaper, and many of these grim appraisals are misguided, but for reasons I don’t think these outlets understand.
Perhaps even for reasons they don’t care to understand.
From where I stand, the undeniable death of the printed newspaper is coming, but it’s not The New York Times and the Washington Post that should be worried.
It’s the local news that should be worried, because it is very nearly extinct.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with expression and, more deeply, with communication.
I loved the ways that people talked to each other, and the different rhythms and word choices they used to make a point.
It was this obsession with communication and making a point that made me interested in writing.
I wanted to tell a story, to affect someone, maybe even to persuade someone to look at life from a different perspective.
And now, all these years later, writing for a campus newspaper, I already see that what is threatened is not major news outlets with brand recognition.
It’s the idea of the different perspective, of the “local spin.”
Local news is dying at a shockingly rapid rate.
In only 17 years, from 2000 to 2017, the advertising revenue for local newspapers decreased from $48 billion to $16.5 billion.
That’s a decrease of more than 60% in less than 20 years.
Subscription revenue has been similarly decimated.
In 1998, local newspaper subscriptions were held by 62.7 million people. In 2018, the number was 31 million, a decrease of a little more than half.
Most communities take local news for granted, and the local newspaper is thought of as more of a public service than an industry that needs revenue to sustain itself.
And then there is the issue of the internet, the very thing most major news outlets seem unwilling to understand.
The internet is the single biggest reason for the death of printed newspapers, for the simple reason that most people get their news from the internet.
I am not interested in bashing the internet for destroying newspapers. I believe it is completely understandable that the news would move to the internet. For readers, it’s faster, and it’s cheaper, and once major news outlets begin to understand the uses of the technology more thoroughly, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be fairly profitable.
In fact, I blame resistance to new technology for a lot of the decline of major newspapers.
But while major newspapers have the option to create a financially viable digital version of their publications, the same cannot be said of local newspapers.
The reason for this is simple: The Lawton Constitution and The Duncan Banner simply don’t have the brand recognition that The New York Times has.
And The Cameron Collegian certainly doesn’t either.
I imagine there are probably those who don’t think these problems would affect journalists on a University level.
They might think that, at an institution whose purpose is to teach people the job, the existence of a newspaper would be secure.
These people would be wrong.
Increasing costs for printing our newspaper, together with a steadily decreasing budget, have put The Cameron Collegian in very real danger.
Even now, the staff of The Collegian is faced with the very real question of either being paid substantially less, or not printing the paper at all.
It feels strange to say so, but I think the work we do here at The Collegian is worth at least the money to print a newspaper and to employ the staff, because it simply isn’t as easy as it seems.
There was a time, when I first started my work study job at The Collegian, that I didn’t really know how to design the page.
I had none of the training for using the software to create the pages and edit the photos, and for a few months, I would regularly be in the office on Thursday nights until 2:00 a.m. and get up at 7:00 a.m. for class the next morning.
Now I have gotten much better with the equipment, but I can still be counted on to sink several hours into writing and researching stories, and editing my page, almost every week.
And my job isn’t even close to being the hardest on staff.
For example, take Co-Managing Editor of The Collegian, Drue Watkins.
His work week involves all of the things I do, mixed with all of the responsibilities of being a supervisor, and the difficulty of the task hasn’t been lost on him.
“You’re always running around making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Watkins said. “And making sure people understand what they’re supposed to be doing.
“It’s not just a supervisory role, it’s also a teaching role,” Watkins said.
Drue is always working diligently on the paper, every time I’m in the office, he seems to be there. For him, this is a full time job, and not something he would do for no compensation.
“Free labor is not fun,” Watkins said. “I think the compensation is necessary because of all the time I do put into it.”
The Collegian is meant as a place to learn a job. And that is not necessarily just the job of creating a newspaper.
At The Collegian, we learn principles of design, of writing, of communication, and a lot about the art of telling a story and making an argument.
If the battle cannot be won on the college campus for the uses of a newspaper, how can we hope to win the battle anywhere else?
The fact is that some people will always think local news is irrelevant. That it doesn’t reach enough people, that the work is not as polished as the work they see on major newspapers, and that the coverage isn’t quite what the public wants.
But to abolish the local news completely is to show a lack of interest in a community.
It shows a lack of interest in local politics, local events, and local people.
But more than that, it shows a wider disinterest in the idea of differing viewpoints on issues, and this can be dangerous.
I’ll give an example.
Last year, Oklahoma state house was the sight of an historic Teachers Strike that garnered national attention.
After the strike, several state legislators were voted out of office in this state due entirely to their lack of support for teachers.
And that was the end of the story, or at least, it was for the national news outlets.
For CNN and Fox News, once some Republican legislators got fired, there was no longer any need to tell the story.
There was no coverage of the continued struggle of the teachers, of the fact that many of the teachers are still being paid massively unfairly, and there was certainly no coverage of the Oklahoma state legislatures attempt to siphon money from school infrastructure funds to pay teachers, even though Oklahoma’s school infrastructure is already disastrously underfunded.
All of that information came from local outlets.
And when those outlets are gone, who can we count on to tell these stories?
Who can be counted on to care about our stories?