Guest view: Local news coverage leads to a better business climate

72
Advertisement

By Allison Taylor Levine

Allison Taylor Levine is the president and founder of the Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware and vice president for marketing and communications at the Delaware Community Foundation. Delaware Business Now is a member of the initiative. This was first published by Delaware Business Magazine.

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.

Advertisement

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. However, there are still many good journalists living and working in the First State, and our news organizations have tried to minimize the impact on newsgathering, 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. The same goes for site selectors evaluating Delaware as a place to do business.

Nearly 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 will become increasingly more difficult to generate their excitement 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 theater reviews, nightlife calendars and vibrant arts coverage are what make it enticing.

Lack of local news is particularly hard on businesses — including nonprofits — in small communities. With the demise of the smaller outlets like the Hockessin Community News, Middletown Transcript and the Delaware Wave, who is covering businesses in those communities? Stories go untold. New restaurants go unreviewed. Historic anniversaries of family-owned businesses pass 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 a 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.

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 several 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, which is funded by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network. The collaborative 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 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.

Advertisement
Advertisement