And he said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal thyself! The [miracles] we heard were happening in Capernaum, do here in your home town.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his home town.” (Luke 4:23-4)
Whatever the reasons for its current condition, any institution that is held in as low esteem and is suffering such severe declines in value* as the “mainstream media” is in need of healing. One place to start is the grassroots.
When we discuss the press, we usually mean the big national outlets. We don’t think of community newspapers in the same way, often dismissing them as local boosters who shy away from tough stories. But that’s not true of the good ones, of which there are many. When the people you write about are those you see daily on the street, it does create coverage issues the big papers rarely have. It also gives you a unique relationship with your readers.
If some of those readers aren’t upset with you some of the time, you’re not doing your job. But if they see you as an alien presence, unconcerned about the wellbeing of their – and your – community, you will have little impact.
So perhaps it is here that we should begin healing the relationship between the public and the press. I talked last week with the president of the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association, the largest and, in my opinion, best press association in the country (full disclosure: I am a longtime member and past chairman). She is seeking to sponsor a series of town hall meetings around Pennsylvania to air the issues in the hope of creating a more transparent and trusting relationship between the public and the press.
Local papers have experienced economic woes as great as those of their national counterparts. Many have folded or merged or been bought by large chains. And they often lack the resources to do true investigative reporting. But many remain hard at work in their communities, seeking not to be liked so much as to be trusted. It’s time to go back to the grassroots in a lot of things, including newspapers.
*Consider this: The New York Times bought The Boston Globe for $1.1 billion in 1997 and sold it in 2013 for $70 million.