Archived Opinion

How valuable is the survival of local news?

How valuable is the survival of local news?

“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” — Walter Cronkite

I’ll get out of this business while it still is a viable business. 

I’ve fed that line to dozens of people over the last few years, but what about my friends and colleagues who remain in the journalism profession?  And what about voters and taxpayers and our civic dialogue?

A we enter 2022 and I stare at my 62-year-old self every day in the mirror, I’m obsessing on the future of this industry and all the people who could be affected by its decline. Mostly, I worry that our country will suffer if local news outlets go away. That sounds heady, but all I ask is for people who do care about their communities to look around and wonder what it would be like to have no credible local news sources?

There are several studies out there to look at, but the truth is the United States has lost about 2,000 newspapers over the last 15 to 20 years. Those same studies have also shown that when communities lose local news coverage, governments impose higher taxes, take more risks with tax money, voter participation declines, and community engagement in civic affairs drops precipitously. The news deserts are too plentiful, and those citizens suffer for it.

It’s obvious, though, that there is a much larger and fundamental problem looming in the world of mass media than the decline of print journalism: it’s the decline in being able to determine truth from lies.

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Print journalism and regular newsrooms — even those at all digital organizations like the Huffington Post or BuzzFeed — are regarded as old and stodgy in today’s fast-paced social media environment when news and cultural events are blasted instantaneously into the digital world and then take on a life of their own. But the fact is that the journalism standards that have evolved over the last 100 years since the heyday of sensational yellow journalism have served this country well.

We try to be fair and impartial in our news coverage. We will always correct a mistake. We value readers and their input into stories and what we should cover. We work to make sure important issues are discussed in the public sphere, which we hope helps citizens and leaders make better decisions that will improve our quality of life.

All credible news organizations make the distinction between news and opinion very clear. And none of us in local media claim to be anything close to perfect. We make mistakes, and the quality from one organization to the next varies. But we always try to improve, to fix what’s wrong and we always are held accountable by you, the readers.

And therein lies the value of local news organizations versus so much of what is found online — we admit our vulnerabilities and don’t try to bash anyone and then slip behind the wall of anonymity offered to everyone in the digital arena. We’re there at the next meeting, at the next public hearing, in line behind you at the grocery store.

Anonymity and distance are also what helps many online purveyors of news distort reality, making it difficult to ascertain fact from fiction. By now we’ve all heard the term “echo chamber,” that online place where any of us can have any crazy idea about some issue or some politicization validated. It’s a sad state.

News gathering organizations have faced all kinds of challenges, ranging from online media giants monopolizing digital advertising, corporate ownership, social media and just the cost of doing business. We love it when we see stories from The Smoky Mountain News on Google’s news feed, but we get nothing for it. 

I got into this business because that intersection of local news stories and public policy thrilled me, because I felt it was important for people to know what was going on and be able to take part in the discussions about the place they call home. There will always be a need for informed public discourse.

Happy New Year.

(Scott McLeod can  be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Leave a comment

8 comments

  • The Smoky Mountain News is a thorough, well-written newspaper. Without a free and responsible press, we cannot have freedom and democracy. Please keep up your stellar work.
    For those who think otherwise about the "media," please consult this directory of disinformation websites before amplifying lies that are coming close to destroying us:
    https://www.factcheck.org/2017/07/websites-post-fake-satirical-stories/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social-pug
    This page and site, sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation, also has a short video explaining how we can spot disinformation that is truly "fake."

    posted by Mary Curry

    Monday, 01/03/2022

  • #scottmcleod The Smoky Mountain News is a thorough, well-written newspaper. Without a free and responsible press, we cannot have freedom and democracy. Please keep up your stellar work.
    For those who think otherwise about the "media," please consult this directory of disinformation websites before amplifying lies that are coming close to destroying us:
    https://www.factcheck.org/2017/07/websites-post-fake-satirical-stories/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social-pug
    This page and site, sponsored by the Annenberg Foundation, also has a short video explaining how we can spot disinformation that is truly "fake."

    posted by Mary Curry

    Monday, 01/03/2022

  • Scott, I value the local journalism you provide to the folks of these mountain counties, holding public officials accountable and keeping us informed on environmental, cultural, and other activities that enrich our lives. The work you do is vital to our Republic's continued survival. The gap in coverage, IMHO, is at the state legislature and inside the Raleigh halls of power, where much of the policy debate that affects all of us takes place. About the only outlet to get any kind of news from Raleigh that is not behind a paywall is on WRAL's coverage, which tends to be Triangle-centric.

    One example of an issue that is not covered sufficiently is redistricting. Our current State Senator, Kevin Corbin, was one of 66 sponsors of a bill when he was the House Deputy Majority Whip that would establish independent redistricting in our state. Yet even in his position of leadership, he and the other 65 sponsors apparently didn't have the juice to overcome Speaker Tim Moore's de facto veto of that bill. Does Sen. Corbin believe in getting that done, or does he believe that putting his name on a bill that has little chance of passage give him a pass?

    posted by Kevin Brock

    Monday, 01/03/2022

  • Your message is on point addressing concerns of informed citizens, and we who have spent our lives in community journalism. We have cause to worried though I hold on to hope that there remain citizens at the core of our communities, both large and small who will continue seeking truth in our social and civic fabric. Holding on to hope.

    posted by Ken wilson

    Friday, 12/31/2021

  • Thank you Scott. You are firmly in the tradition of principled, serious journalism dating all the way back to Peter Zenger in the 1700's... The very first amendment of the Constitution declares the importance of a free press. Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, and now Judy Woodruff (PBS) are all in that great tradition.

    posted by steve wall

    Wednesday, 12/29/2021

  • Thank you, Scott. To echo your thoughts here - professional journalism holds itself accountable. And admits its mistakes. That's a good litmus test for what all of us are reading - do our news sources admit it when they're wrong? If they don't, well, then.

    posted by Paul Clark

    Wednesday, 12/29/2021

  • Thank you Scott. You are firmly in the tradition of principled, serious journalism dating all the way back to Peter Zenger in the 1700's... The very first amendment of the Constitution declares the importance of a free press. Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, and now Judy Woodruff (PBS) are all in that great tradition.

    posted by steve wall

    Wednesday, 12/29/2021

  • Funny you quoting Walter Cronkite. He had everyone fooled all the years. He turned out to be nothing more than a Globalist and Leftist.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Wednesday, 12/29/2021

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