Local news not reveling in bad news

Posted 5/23/20

While reporting bad news is a necessary side to good journalism, no reporter that I have ever been associated with enjoyed that aspect of the job.

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Local news not reveling in bad news


While reporting bad news is a necessary side to good journalism, no reporter that I have ever been associated with enjoyed that aspect of the job.

Over a nearly 25-year career in community newspapers, I personally have reported on some gut-wrenching incidents. I have seen, heard and experienced situations that were so difficult that the word “tragedy” just didn’t seem to correctly describe the true nature of those news items. I can promise that I never once thought, “This is going to sell some papers.”

When those kinds of events have happened, it is much more likely that I have spent a sleepless night thinking about the people affected, hoping that my coverage did inform the public but did not cause them any more pain and suffering.

In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines around the globe. It has also dominated headlines in our local newspaper. While we have shifted our local coverage in hopes of capturing more people stories and finding other news items, there is still much locally to discuss about the coronavirus and its impact here. And our national news coverage from the Associated Press is still predominantly virus-related, because there isn’t much else happening in the world.

One misguided thought that I have come across several times in the last couple of months is that somehow all media enjoys pushing out bad information, especially as it relates to COVID-19. Evidently, it is some big conspiracy that all of us got together and came up with a mythical disease in an effort to take down a particular politician. We also want to scare people to keep them home and keep our economy closed.

Sorry to ruin that idea, but anything close to that is complete bull dung.

Some conspiracy theorists make it sound like all us “media” folks have this dark lair somewhere, probably in California, where we meet around a pentagram shaped table to discuss all the ways that we can ruin society, especially in the Bible Belt.

I’ve been to a lot of newspaper conferences. I personally have not been invited to the pentagram table yet. My only experiences have been discussing with other media members as to how is the best way to meet the needs of our readers in all the different aspects of customer service that goes along with our industry. It is typically pretty boring for anyone not in this business.

I will admit that mainstream media can attempt to sway people in certain directions. That is an issue that can be attributed to both sides of the political spectrum. Community journalism, such as what we do at the Daily Mountain Eagle, is focused on keeping our public informed to local issues as well as giving everyone in our community a voice on those issues.

During this virus pandemic, we have not once been happy about the situations that it has caused. As much as any business in our area, we need our economy to be thriving, and we will always do our part to ensure that local businesses are doing well and will help them to do even better.

A recent article by The Poynter Institute showed all newsroom layofffs, furloughs and closures caused by the critical blow of COVID-19. It is a long list. This has been a sad and scary time for all community journalists.

It should be a sad and scary time for citizens where news outlets are closing their doors. When an area loses a small daily or a weekly newspaper, you lose the journalist who shows up at the school board or commission meetings. Communities lose transparency and accountability, and research shows that at that time taxes go up and voter participation goes down.

As of Friday, more than 30 newspapers across America have closed in the last six weeks or so, mostly due to the negative impact from the coronavirus. Some have lost advertising revenue to the point that they could not see a way to bounce back from it. A lot of the closures have been weekly newspapers, even one in our state that I used to lead. Some of those that have closed were in business for more than a century. Before closing, many of them started with a cut in print days, furloughs and layoffs.

That is a scary thing for our team here at the Daily Mountain Eagle to read. Our team members have sacrificed a cut in hours and pay to help with our bottom line. We haven’t experienced layoffs or furloughs, but it was a definite possibility. We have cut a production day as an expense saver as well. We have done those things in our effort to continue to bring local news to our community, and we want to be able to do it as well as anyone. I think we do that.

If you want to really upset the DME crew, please say that we enjoy printing bad news, or call us left-leaning or right-wing, or talk about how we don’t care. There is a group of 30 people that rely on this newspaper to feed their families. We don’t care who the president is. We don’t care who the mayors or county officials are. We care about doing our jobs and providing that service to our community.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting your newspaper.

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.