Here’s another reason we’re lucky: we are home to some very good, very reliable media outlets, this in an era when many parts of the country can’t say that.
I know that may sound braggadocious, but I’m not just talking about The Smoky Mountain News. The North Carolina Press Association held its awards ceremony a couple weeks ago, and all the newspapers in this region — The Franklin Press, The Sylva Herald, The Smoky Mountain Times, The Mountaineer, Mountain Xpress and The Smoky Mountain News — walked away with a nice haul of prizes certifying that they do quality work. In some categories — like investigative reporting, local news websites — The Smoky Mountain News and The Mountaineer dominated the competition, and in some categories our own staff won multiple awards. It’s fun to compete against our peers, and it’s nice to see our writers recognized for the hard work they do every week.
I wrote a column earlier this year about how trust in news sources at all levels has decreased dramatically in this country. It’s of interest to note that findings like that are occurring at the same time that newspapers across the country are closing. A study released a couple years ago by a UNC journalism professor found that 1,800 newspapers in this country have closed since 2004. A follow-up study, reported on by the Poynter Institute in February, noted that another 60 newsrooms in the U.S. have been shuttered since the onset of the pandemic. Many other news organizations are surviving by cutting staff and eliminating positions as local advertisers enduring business slowdowns due the pandemic have stopped advertising.
It’s a transformative time in many industries. But when we lose 30,000 reporting jobs in 10 years and more than 1,800 newspapers, there’s little doubt taxpayers and citizens are less informed. Having a shared set of facts is critical if we are to make decisions on local issues that are important to our communities. But many regions are now news deserts, places where there is no reliable source of information on what county commissioners, town leaders, and the school board are doing. Studies have found that the costs to taxpayers — taxes, user fees, etc. — go up when there is no local news source.
There’s no doubt that the way news is delivered is changing, and so does the way consumers pay for it. Just this week, I made a contribution to Blue Ridge Public Radio during their fund drive because I believe strongly that their reporting is important. I also made a contribution to another mostly Asheville news site — the Asheville Hotsheet, run by Jason Sandford who also runs the Ashvegas blog. Both are very good regional and local news sources, and the donation/subscription model is important for the survival of local news.
Just as our forests here are rich, diverse, temperate rainforests, so too is our media climate very diverse and mostly healthy. That’s good for those who live here, so let’s hope it stays that way as this industry continues to evolve.