Part II: Commission Findings and Recommended Strategies
The Commission agrees there is serious cause for concern. Newspapers may have their shortcomings, but in many communities, they have been for a century or longer the primary source of fair, accurate and independent news. They are usually the major provider of “beat” and investigative journalism. They often set the news agenda for other community outlets, including both broadcast and new media. They have been critical to how cities, towns and regions understand themselves and their circumstances. Television and radio are also critical news sources, but are unlikely to offset fully any drop that local communities experience in original, verified newspaper reporting. That is because the average radio station provides under an hour of daily news coverage,24 and television stations, even as they increase their news coverage, are doing so with fewer and less experienced journalists on staff.25 From the standpoint of public need, however, the Commission believes that the challenge is not to preserve any particular medium. It is to promote the traditional public service functions of journalism. The key question is, “How can we advance quality, skilled journalism that contributes to healthy information ecologies in local communities?”
Hundreds, if not thousands, of American communities receive only scant journalistic attention on a daily basis, and many have none.
The Changing Face of Journalism Journalistic institutions do not need saving so much as they need creating. The 2007 Newspaper Association of America count of daily newspapers in the United States was 1,422. At the same time, there are 3,248 counties, encompassing over 19,000 incorporated places and over 30,000 “minor civil divisions” having legal status, such as towns and villages.26 It follows that hundreds, if not thousands of American communities receive only scant journalistic attention on a daily basis, and many have none. Even accounting for community weeklies—a 2004 survey identified 6,704 such papers nationwide27—it is likely that many American communities get no attention from print journalism at all. Joe Hansen of Montana’s Big Timber News Citizen Newspaper Group and the Executive Director of the Western EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Network, told the Commission that no one should assume that local media in smaller towns cover a larger percentage of the community’s relevant events. Coverage falls short everywhere.
The Report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy