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VIEWPOINT: Local news matters–Here’s what we’re doing about it

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It’s not news that the news is in trouble. Your morning paper is thinner than it used to be. Important elections sneak up on you. You hear rumors of something that happened down the street or around the corner, and the lack of news coverage leaves you wondering what to believe.

Allison Taylor Levine

We hear about staffing cuts, we miss independent reporting on education, businesses and development, and we struggle to find timely information about Delaware’s state and municipal government.

There are still many good journalists living and working in The First State, and our news organizations have tried to minimize the impact on news gathering as their traditional business models collapsed over the past two decades. But there’s no sugarcoating the loss to local news and reporting.

And the impact of those losses is felt by everyone in our business community.

Strong, independent, local journalism is closely linked to quality of life. Research shows us that in places where there are fewer working journalists, businesses and citizens pay higher taxes, more crimes go unsolved, fewer people vote, social cohesion is lost, and inequity grows.

These are the issues that make it harder for businesses to attract and retain top-tier employees – particularly among the younger professionals every business community wants.

And the same goes for site selectors evaluating Delaware as a place to do business.

Every inquiry starts with a Google search. If someone looking at Delaware from the outside in cannot easily access independent information about public safety, schools, housing, the arts, public parks, transportation and other infrastructure… it’s going to be a lot harder to get them excited about the First State.

Sure, information can be found from local chambers of commerce or organizations like the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, but a strong, independent news community gives life to their data in the form of stories. For example, you may hear that there is an active and growing arts and entertainment scene in Wilmington, but theatre reviews, nightlife calendars, and vibrant arts coverage are what make it enticing.

Lack of local news is particularly hard on businesses (including nonprofit organizations) in small communities. Since the demise of the smaller outlets like the Hockessin Community News, Middletown Transcript and the Delaware Wave, the elimination of local coverage at WILM, and the diminishing of so many other community news outlets … who’s covering businesses in those communities? Stories go untold. New restaurants go unreviewed. Historic anniversaries of family-owned businesses pass by without mention. Fewer people know what business is going on right on their street.

I told you this was not a news story. This is trend story. But trends can change.

The Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware is a new nonprofit organization working to bolster Delaware’s local news and information ecosystem and bring our community back together.

We’re pursuing a number of strategies, both supporting our existing local news organizations – legacy media with unmatched reach and resources that our communities simply cannot afford to lose – while exploring new opportunities to address historic gaps in news coverage.

One significant step is the creation of the new Delaware Journalism Collaborative. The DJC, funded by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, includes 18 Delaware newsrooms and five community organizations that are pooling resources to help the community understand important local challenges and lead conversations about addressing them.

We also support a local journalism internship program in partnership with the Delaware Community Foundation and Maryland Delaware DC Press Association. This program – which has placed six interns at news organizations throughout Delaware so far – is helping to increase coverage of historically underserved communities and to create a stronger pipeline of reporters of color into local news operations.

We also recently completed a statewide assessment of Delaware’s news and information ecosystem. This study identifies the geographic and demographic communities that are in the greatest need of quality news coverage, and shows us key opportunities where we can improve access to news and information throughout the state.

The most important finding of this study? Delawareans want and need more independent local news and information. They need it to function, to participate fully in our democracy, and to strengthen all the connections that make Delaware a great place to live, work and play.

Armed with this research and continuing input from the community, the Local Journalism Initiative is now developing strategies to address the gaps. We invite you to learn more about our work at our website, ljidelaware.org, and share your insights by contacting me at allison@ljidelaware.org.

Allison Taylor Levine is president and founder of the Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware, and vice president for marketing and communications at the Delaware Community Foundation. Reach her at allison@ljidelaware.org

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