JULY 2017 • 7
EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK • ELVA K. ÖSTERREICH
Thank a Hero Journalism under attack W
here does news come from? Having worked in southern New Mexico print news since 1998, I know when I want reliable information, I have to look as close to home as possible. Yet, when you hear community members talk about those sources, there is little but complaining. It is true that the climate for news makes for difficulties. As corporate interests take part in community newspapers, a belt-tightening crunch of inflexibility reduces staff numbers and capability. This is not new. Online news and rumors were already affecting news when I started. The paper at which I worked, the Alamogordo Daily News, had already given up its family owned independence and been sold to a news organization. When I started there, we had eight full-time newsroom personnel including the managing editor. Today, there are four full-time in the newsroom and the managing editor has the additional job of editing the Ruidoso News. The newspaper affiliation Alamogordo and Ruidoso papers are part of currently also includes the Las Cruces Sun News, Deming Headlight, Carlsbad Current Argus and the Silver City Sun News. This group has formed a core for southern New Mexico for many years and still does, they
are now owned by Gannett and labeled as “Part of the USA Today Network.” In May, the Las Cruces Sun-News laid off three journalists and the newspaper’s managing editor Sylvia Ulloa resigned. On a larger scaler, also in May, the Columbia Journalism Review put out calls for Gannett journalists across the country to provide the information about lay-offs at the company and nearly two dozen current and former employees responded. It appears that at least 60 staffers, from at least 15 separate newsrooms, lost their jobs. The real totals are likely higher, and they come in addition to the shuttering of off-site design and production facilities in New Jersey and California, respectively. “Not only are ongoing job reductions important stories for the local economies these news organizations cover, but they’re also increasingly crucial for communities grappling with a future without newspapers,” CJR writes. “Amid all the hand-wringing over the industry’s fate, and all the discussion of enlisting the public to prop up local media, residents have little information on what they’re actually losing.” One of the first casualties of staff reductions across the United States is the ability to investigate and produce in-
depth investigatory journalism. Interestingly, in the past few years, several New Mexico journalists have left community newspapers to establish and work for news sources dedicated to investigative pieces. New Mexico In Depth is a news source dedicated to investigation and balance, co-founded by Trip Jennings who previously covered politics and state government for the Albuquerque Journal, The New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe New Mexican. Ulloa is now part of the In Depth team. Also with In Depth, Jeff Proctor, previously an investigative reporter/producer for KRQE-TV and justice system reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, has earned numerous accolades for his work in the state. NMPolitics.net is the brain child of Heath Haussamen of Las Cruces whose name is familiar to many in the southern part of the state from his days the Las Cruces Sun News. According to the website, NMPolitics.net operates from a belief that the best way forward is together – that we must do the hard work of listening and understanding each other so we can find solutions that work for as many people as possible. Not only does Haussamen complete thorough investigative journalism he writes himself, he shares significant sto-
ries produced by other sources. In a May story, Haussamen reported a recent study which found that U.S. newspapers have eliminated more than 20,000 jobs since 2007, more than 100 daily newspapers have closed, and advertising revenue of the seven publicly traded newspaper companies fell 7.8 percent. The journalists I know, have met over the past 19 years and have worked with, are dedicated to what they do. I don’t know any who focus on “fake news,” deliberate spinning or any of those things of which we are so often accused. Sometimes we may feel like we are butting our heads against a wall, fighting time and expectation. Sometimes we just don’t have the resources to do what we feel we need to. And sometimes the system bucks us big time. Things have changed over the years in terms of accessibility. Not only does the current administration damage us daily with accusations, the Obama years included an information shutdown of epic proportions. When I started, I could pick up a phone and talk directly and immediately to a local federal government official. The information I wanted could be turned over and shared with the community by the next day. When the Obama years hit, we increasingly had to jump
through hoops to get any information, going through a public information officer in Washington who would call us back in 10 days or so, sometimes never. And still, we persist with what shrinking resources we have. So please, hold our feet to the fire. If we get something wrong, we want to fix it. But in-between telling us about our shortfalls and complaining about grammar, thank your local journalists for persisting in seeking out that wall between gossip and truth. Elva K Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers during her office hours in Silver City. For July she will be in town during the CLAY Festival and holding office hours at the Tranquil Buzz Café, located at the corner of Yankie and Texas streets. So put your bonnet or ball cap on to save your head from the sun and head over to the café from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 27, to say hello. If that is not a good time, Elva will be glad to arrange another day to meet and you can always reach her at editor@desertexposure. com or by cell phone at 575443-4408.
THE BOSS’S NOTEBOOK • GRAHAM OSTEEN
Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
hink of this as a manifesto for the future involving your local community newspaper. Not all communities have dependable, trusted local media these days, and that’s a dangerous problem across the country. Too many people and communities are isolated, creating what are called “news deserts.” The larger question — given the disruption of media and just about everything else in the world — is how does a local newspaper continue to serve the public, protect democracy, share history, promote advertisers and keep communities together amidst such information over-
load? That’s a question for us as community journalists, but it’s also a question for you, a member of a community with schools, health care services, churches, sports, charitable organizations, businesses of all sorts and elected officials who serve you. As a reader, business owner/operator, elected official or private citizen — a member of a community — what do you want from a local institution such as ours? Where should our resources be focused, or refocused? As an example of what we’re already doing within our own organization (OPC News, which includes the Las Cruces Bulletin
and Desert Exposure), here are some key concepts straight out of other newsrooms across the nation: • Be the organization of interest in the community. • Swap “beats” for “obsessions.” • Chase “themes” and “ideas.” • Focus on people. Everyone has a story. • Become “relentlessly interesting” with local coverage. • Think like a foreign correspondent seeing things for the first time. • Work hard at preserving the foundation of what news and local newspapering have meant since the beginning.
• Are we pursuing the right stories for our readers? • Are there opportunities to network with other news outlets, independent journalists or public service organizations to better serve the whole community? • Are we providing effective channels for reader feedback? Are we listening? One final note to consider from recent a Columbia Journalism Review article by Michael Rosenwald. He writes, “Local readers, particularly those who read in both formats, are the most engaged users of newspaper print editions and websites — staying longer, consuming
more stories, viewing more ads and, in the case of national outlets, subscribing at higher rates. We look forward to hearing from you, and we’re easy to contact via email or phone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-680-1978. Graham Osteen is Editor-AtLarge of The Sumter Item and CEO at OPC News LLC. He can be reached at graham@theitem. com. Follow him on Twitter @ GrahamOsteen, or visit www. grahamosteen.com.