Local News, Democracy, and You

What happens to democracy when local news falters?

On June 24, 2020 three veteran and venerable journalists joined us for a frank discussion of the state of local news in our state: Teya Ryan, CEO and President of Georgia Public Broadcasting; Maria Saporta, Founder of the Saporta Report and Contributing Writer to the Atlanta Business Chronicle; Len Robbins, Editor and Publisher of four community newspapers in South Georgia: The Clinch County News, Lanier County Advocate, Atkinson County Citizen, and Echols County Echo. ⁣

  • “This is very serious. There are two studies that show that if there is no newspaper in a community, no matter how large or how small, that community economically suffers.” 8:45
  • “The other thing that I think is undervalued a lot of times is the historical record that these newspapers provide for these communities. We’re really the only historical record for those communities. For instance with a person, in our pages we’ll have when they’re born in a birth announcement, when they graduate from high school, have that in our pages, when they get married, when they get a DUI, when hopefully they do something good like get a promotion or win an award and also when they die they’ll be in our obituaries. Their whole life’s story can be in a community newspaper. And if we don’t have that community newspaper doing that, nobody else is going to do that I don’t think.” 12:32
  • “This is required, to publicly advertise bids, budgets, public hearings, and if we don’t have a generally circulated public newspaper how are we going to get it done? In that sense it’s a public service and in many cases it’s the law.” 14:50
  • “The business dynamics of what made newspapers and television stations and all that thrive, those factors are no longer working.” 28:12
  • “Every study I’ve looked at says if you are a person that does not trust the media – but there’s a caveat to that usually – they trust their local media. They trust Len. Okay. They don’t trust ‘the media’, but they trust Len. That’s why losing media in communities is so frightening because actually they’re pretty well-trusted.” 32:02
  • “Yes there are a lot of rumors out there, but let’s not get too precious about our background as journalists. If you’re a student of journalism history – which I am – we come from a long background of liars and people that created whole newspaper empires for their own political opinion.” 32:49
  • “Unless you’re a total crook you want as many journalists following [you as possible].” 39:35
  • “The scary part is when you don’t know what politicians are doing.” 41:26
  • “We’re really trying to train journalists to really follow through on how a community is responding to a problem. Not what the problem is but how are we progressing to solve it.” 45:26
  • “I am very very interested in how I reach people with my news that won’t normally come to me. what tools do I need to use that will engage with them, because there are increasingly more and more people like that . . . How do I use the power of [TikTok] to get to people that normally wouldn’t come to me? 46:41
  • “At the same time, I am the person that picks up a newspaper – a physical newspaper – two of them – every day and reads a physical newspaper. I will never give that up, ever.”  48:15
  • I think we’re talking about restructuring the whole model of what journalism means.” 51:20
  • “The good news is that people want to know what’s going on in their community, in their state, in their nation. It doesn’t matter what age they are, 8 to 88. The problem or the challenge for us is that the people that are 88, and the people that are 8, and then all the different ages and demographics, want their news delivered in different ways . . . We’ve got to find that new business model that works for everybody.” 51:57
  • “I feel more hopeful. And I feel more motivated.” 57:37

Special thanks to GeorgiaForward Board Member Bill Bolling for moderating.

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