Why community journalism is important, now more than ever (OP-ED)
There is an interesting free article about inequalities on Aeon. If egalitarianism and sharing reigned between homo sapiens for tens of thousands of years, he asks himself, why it’s only in the last few thousand years that things have changed? Why are we so unequal today?
And what does that have to do with Saucon Valley? Support me the latter a little.
Blaming “human nature” for inequality gets us nowhere. On the contrary, anthropologists believe that the establishment of clans and primitive forms of computing (stories, pictograms, writing, etc.) allowed the emergence of elites who could control stored resources. Knowledge can be power, but those who control information also control knowledge.
Aeon’s article, filled with good information, is free. Just like this article you are reading is. (Aeon is a high-quality online ideas magazine run by a 501 (c) (3) registered charity.) I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I can sell my writing, and I do it often, yet I am happy to donate my skills to Saucon Source from time to time. Knowing what I know about the state of local journalism in the United States, this is a small way to get involved. My wife and I also give Saucon Source LLC some money each month to support local journalism.
Community journalism involves a body of knowledge and skills just as important to society and difficult to learn as good carpentry or inheritance law.
That’s why I react with a mixture of nausea and bewilderment when I see some of the reader comments on the Saucon Source Facebook page; part of a 100 percent free local information source.
Over the past year or so, those comments – which are technically owned by Facebook, like everything posted there (remember what I said about information and inequalities?) – have occasionally took on a very personal and ugly tone. Facebook has become infamous for its unspoken encouragement of such small manifestations of hate, and its dark community moderators do next to nothing, in my experience, to discourage them.
It is not acceptable to treat working journalists themselves, personally, with disrespect. However, when readers launch baseless personal attacks, that’s what they do.
We are not talking about good faith criticism of journalistic misconduct. There is no justification offered, no argument, no syllogistic reasoning. These are ad hominem, make fun of journalists and sometimes other readers, often not so subtly mixed with hatred as well as confusion over basic facts which only further fuels the division. The problem grew to the point that many US news agencies shut down reader comments altogether. Saucon Source continues to share important local stories on its Facebook page, where responses don’t always reflect the best of our community.
Meanwhile, America’s information deserts continue to grow. They are associated with economic stagnation and cultural erosion at the community level. Information deserts are also hives of inequalities; places where political corruption, crime and economic exploitation flourish. A desert of information does not mean that information does not exist. This means that the elites amass information and use it to exploit those who do not. Good journalism frees and democratizes information.
Only fools will suggest that local message boards, social media, or worse, government websites, can replace community journalism, and quality journalism is harder than it looks. It requires advanced training, time and money to produce.
We need smart information to help local leaders be held to account, and because we also live in one of the most corrupt states of the republic. Once, a few years ago, I remember hearing a local public official who was rather impressed with himself criticize a local media outlet, and I thought to myself that at the very least, its editor should do his job.
We are in an age where community information must also be open, technologically agile, and financially entrepreneurial to survive. A large presence on social networks; sponsored stories; The advertisement; a system of taking donations; podcasting; a desire to keep local businesses in the spotlight; an unwavering dedication to crime or disaster news (“If it bleeds, it leads” is one of the oldest adages in the industry) – these are all building blocks in 2021 for community news organizations like Saucon Source.
This openness creates opportunities for both visionaries and provocateurs, which is why it became more and more clear to me that only a partial public financing system will save the community news. This system cannot conflict with the First Amendment, which will take some work. Yet “the worker is worthy of being hired”, and operations such as Saucon Source are well positioned to help create a new model for ensuring that we have impartially informed citizens.
We all have things we don’t like about the way our community is covered by the media, whether it’s Rolling stone, the Morning call or Saucon Source. Write a letter to the editor, if so. If you’re really upset, start your own post. But we need to value the community news we have and maybe even show a little humility and respect for it. A community without community news, believe me, is a dying community.
Support your local journalism! There are a lot of things I don’t like about the local coverage, but the alternative of a news wasteland is too dark to consider.
Bill Broun is a writer who lives in Hellertown. To learn more about him, visit BillBroun.com.