January 16, 2014
Unconvinced by Maddow's Paean to the Local Press
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Rachel Maddow's WaPo op-ed yesterday sings the praises of the "dogged local press corps" that uncovered Chris Christie's Bridgegate and other local corruption.  She ends with a ringing endorsement of the local press:

Our democracy depends on local journalism, whether it’s a beat reporter slogging through yet another underattended local commission meeting, or a state political reporter with enough of an ear to the ground to know where the governor might be when he isn’t where he says he is, or a traffic columnist who’s nobody’s fool.

It’s annoying to pay for information — I know. But if you don’t subscribe to your local paper or pony up to get behind its online paywall, who’s going to pay reporters to cover the news where you live? A free press isn’t that kind of “free.” An accountable democracy doesn’t work without real information, gathered from the ground up, about people in power, everywhere. Be inspired by the beleaguered but unintimidated reporters of Chris Christie’s New Jersey: Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.

I'm just not buying it.  Not the merits, but the remedy.  I'm all for a vibrant local press, but the business model of the local paper was built on ads and classifieds.  From where I sit, all the virtuous citizens in the world are just not going to save the Athens Banner-Herald.

Interestingly, before her conclusion Maddow mentions another potential model:

When Mayflower, Ark., learned the hard way last March that an aging ExxonMobil pipeline ran under it, the Arkansas Times’s dogged reporting included a crowd-funding effort to pay for its reporters to team with journalists experienced in covering pipelines to get to the bottom of what ExxonMobil did and whether other communities with buried pipelines should feel protected by existing regulations.

I'm no press expert, but Maddow seems to be the little Dutchboy in this scenario.  If we need a vibrant local press, we need to find another way to pay for it. 

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