The Editor of the Kent County News, Kevin Hemstock, wrote a column that is right on target with its observations about the newspaper business. It is one legacy media should take to heart for it provides the core of a strategy for sustaining the enterprise during challenging times, when the business model will have to change because of new technology and depressed advertising revenue. The editor wrote that “a well run local newspaper shouldn’t have any trouble during these generally troubling times for the media. That’s because you won’t find local news reported anywhere but in the local papers and the web sites they create. . . . When a sensational story appears . . . the papers would fly out of the racks. That’s still the case.” Elsewhere in his piece he quotes another columnist as saying “the great mass of consequential reporting on civic affairs still comes from print” because other outlets don’t “do some original digging.”
We do wish that last comment was true for in most of the small-town papers we read there is very little effort invested at delivering deeper content, especially if it involves some investigating. People really want local news, reporting that involves doing some original digging into a story, especially those associated with government and politics. That’s a strategy the Chestertown paper follows for we’ve found they frequently challenge local government with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and the sunshine regulations of the Open Meeting Law. The editorial board there also takes the county leadership to task on its page regularly.
A search of the Kent County news website found 40 some citations related to FOIA. The headlines included: “Poor example set on open meeting law,” “New Way is Found to Hold Closed Meeting,” “Better Ways to Notify”, and “Complaint Against Betterton Board.” We recall several times that the Kent weekly has upset county or town officials with their reporting, when they didn’t want something revealed or it wasn’t spun the right way. We don’t subscribe to the Whig online service so we’re not able to do a comparative study, but speaking qualitatively we recall virtually none of that in many years.
What have we had in Cecil County recently? There was the Cecil Whig piece saying that a county closed door meeting on the SPCA matter was appropriate. We challenged that assertion when the paper made it. Too while we’ve seen a lot of copy on the SPCA matter after it was really old news, we don’t recall seeing an editorial urging the commissioners to get on with an independent investigation. Then if the allegations are wrong we’ll know that aspect and if they aren’t we can fix it. Did we miss that in the Whig?
In talking to another editor elsewhere on the Eastern Shore he was telling me how at one town meeting the government official chairing the meeting said in an open meeting, “We don’t want this printed.” That caused an immediate professional response from the reporter, letting the meeting chair know that he couldn’t decide what made the news. We wonder what would happen here?
For a healthy society, with all things kept in balance as much as possible, everyone needs strong newspapers of the type that will report on the complex issues, even if it offends powerful (relatively speaking) types. That sort of threat of having “fair and balanced” (not the Fox news style either) reporting makes for a stronger community and a better government. Hopefully our local media will see the value in digging up the news since it is good for circulation. We’ve seen what the current SPCA mess has done to blog traffic. It also requires the story from both sides. We hope we’re not dreaming to much on this particular day.
By-the-way, borrowing one idea from the editorial page of the Whig, we may start using the thumbs up and thumbs down approach to our editorials. Right now we’re thinking about whether we’ll give the following groups the thumbs-up or thumbs-down over how they’ve handled the latest regional news headlines out of Cecil County for the past week: The SPCA, Cecil County Government, and the Cecil Whig. Don’t worry we won’t need to think too long. As our editorial board reflects on our position feel free to post your thoughts.