I’m told local news is dying.
At Kenyon, where the Collegian reports stories relevant to both college and village life weekly, this is clearly not the case. In a time where the odds are stacked against local stories and local voices, we continue to be more than just a college newspaper.
A 2016 study carried out by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill designated rural Ohio as being at significant risk of becoming a news desert: Civitas, a large investment group, owns 41 of Ohio’s approximately 300 local papers. Since 2012, it has closed down four local papers in communities struggling economically, and these have not been replaced.
Local journalism is vital for covering important stories that might otherwise go unnoticed. For instance, in the face of a declining revenue, the East Bay Times devoted five months to coverage of the 2016 ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse fires in Oakland, Calif. that killed 36. Their exhaustive and potentially life-saving coverage found what proved to be a serious affordable-housing crisis.
While the The New York Times and media conglomerates like Gannett have grown, the smallest papers have closed down. And yet, the Collegian remains a community fixture.
I know, the Collegian is different. It is supported by the College, run by students and advised by a member of the faculty. Of course this publication is going to be more resilient than if it were driven by advertisement and subscription revenue.
That said, the Collegian is also Gambier’s newspaper. Sure, we report changes relevant primarily to students, such as the K-Card access policy. But we also cover how construction in the town center impacts local residents. We cover the way national policy decisions impact life at Kenyon. We publish opinion pieces on accessibility, the #MeToo movement, sustainability and other issues that impact us all.
Our work is vital in an era where the least profitable source of news, local media, is perhaps the most trusted one: While Americans have grown more skeptical of both national news and their friends and family over the past year, they have grown more trusting of their community newspapers. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who responded as having at least some trust in local journalism rose from 82 to 85 percent while it declined from 76 to 72 percent for national news outlets.
Living in and caring about the place you cover lends itself to a certain credibility, it seems. We are members of this community, so we take great care in depicting it accurately. In the opinions section, that means we try our best to publish pieces that reflect the conversations happening around the campus and in Gambier. Our charge at Opinions is to amplify student voices in order to represent, challenge and inform the views that exist on campus.
Admittedly, we are only human. Our ears can only hear the voices around us. Our newsroom, like newsrooms everywhere, could be more diverse, not only racially and socioeconomically but also in terms of student interest. Our passion is journalism, a fact that is obviously essential to any good newspaper, but which ties the newspaper to the community. We rely on those who, altogether, can tell us something about the news.
We see ourselves as an essential component of life on the Hill, a lifeline for the sort of rigorous inquiry that keeps this place running. But even a lifeline needs people to hold the rope and guide it in the right direction.
At the Collegian, we like to think that we start conversations. We hope you will help us continue them.
Tommy Johnson ’20 is a political science major from Pittsboro, N.C. He is the editor of the opinions section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.