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ROZ’S RANT – Does local news still matter?

I like to think we make a difference here at the newspaper. I really do. It’s necessary that I do, because otherwise I’m going to give it up, retire and scream about everything on social media. I do that anyway, but it’s usually about the Habs and that’s not even fun anymore because they suck.

We use hashtags to ensure our work gets some traction and it’s been around for a while. “Local news matters”. But does it really? I read a post on Facebook recently, because it’s always on Facebook here, where people were losing their minds over information we’ve already verified, fact checked, and reported on and I’m wondering, after another year as an independent news organization, why we bother at all.

When the road got washed out last November, CBC and Global and all the big boys came out to report on it. It’s their job, too. When Hurricane Fiona hit they came back and did more stellar work about the extraordinary devastation. But in between it was really just us for the most part, and I am left wondering if anyone even cares.

We’ve gotten a lot of kudos and props from our peers and new online subscribers about our coverage on Hurricane Fiona and that’s always nice, but on a local level it feels like our work has been largely ignored.

This year has felt particularly gruelling. There was a lot of controversy coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were healthcare woes, municipal and regional government issues, Come Home Year celebrations, and accomplishments by people in our region that we reported on. Does anyone remember those stories? Yeah, that was us.

Over in Ukraine they’re kicking Russia’s arse back to Siberia, but some papers don’t get nearly enough attention as they deserve. One example is called The Kyiv Independent. They do stellar work, but you pop a camera in front of a shell shocked citizen and that paper gets sidelined even on their home turf, which they know better than anyone.

It’s to be expected and nothing new, but it does make me grind my teeth when I watch the 24 hour news giant basically do the same story in a 2 minute sound bite that the paper spent days developing. The journalistic playing field has never been level, and I don’t believe it will ever be.

But I’ve gotten off track, as I usually do. What I am taking a shot at here is not big media but social media, and around here that means Facebook, although Twitter isn’t much better, especially now that Elon Musk is at the helm.

We do the research and ask the questions, and good social media can and does ask these questions and that does prompt discussion and investigation around the newsroom. When we work in harmony we’re all better off. But when we do all this work to inform and educate and yet another post crops up rehashing something all over again I know two things – people don’t read this paper (even the free articles online) and they don’t care.

It’s easier to ask on social media and hope that, amidst all the replies, some of it is accurate and that people will know it when they see it. The truth is this rarely happens and there are multiple studies to back that. Research has shown that people tend to favour stories that reinforce their own beliefs, and even confronted with the truth, they will prefer to believe the disinformation and even knowingly share it. ( ‘The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online’)

Local newspapers are drying up and dying off, and when the truth does come out via a two minute sound bite on the evening news, it will likely register a bit better. And as long as those Facebook likes keep coming and the ad revenue props up that platform, then I guess that’s just going to have to be good enough.

If anyone is even reading any of this, thank you. Perhaps there’s still a bit of hope for local news yet. In that case, I’ll see you next year.

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