Gen Z Needs to save local papers

Local papers staffed with journalists who do important investigative work

Small papers publish big stories. From Seymour Hersh’s exposé of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war in 1969, to Liz Crokin’s 2016 reporting on the Clinton campaign overcharging donors. In August of 2020, the Sacramento Bee discovered that after pledging to take a 10 percent salary cut alongside state workers, Governor Gavin Newsom failed to do so and continued withdrawing his full monthly salary.

There’s no doubt that local papers are staffed with journalists who do important investigative work. Despite their significance and potential, local papers have faced the harsh realities of a changing media landscape. With the internet luring previous advertisers, digital platforms becoming more accessible and efficient for readers as seen with the New York Times, and newsroom employment dropping drastically.

An article from Nieman Lab translates this numerically, “In 2006, American newspapers sold over $49 billion in ads, employed more than 74,000 people and circulated to 52 million Americans on weekdays. By 2017, ad revenues were down to $16.5 billion (a 66 percent drop); the newspaper workforce fell by 47 percent, to just over 39,000; and weekday circulation fell below 31 million.”

Local papers have been left to adapt to these changes quickly, for if they don’t, they risk bankruptcy and potential closure.

As the Washington Post says, Democracy Dies In Darkness, and although large news suppliers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN face no apparent threat, should they be trusted?

Americans must consider the integrity of the information they consume. A recent poll suggests that only 41% of Americans trust mass media, due to bias, on both the left and the right. A study from The Journal of Communication asserts that the increased consumption of mainstream media leads to an increase in political polarization among the electorate.

Therefore, as local media sources diminish in numbers and popularity, individuals consume more biased news which creates a divided nation. Local news can be better judged and verified, this permits readers to form their own opinions and be less alarmed by those who disagree.

Maintaining neutrality and sustaining the truth within the media promotes America’s democratic values while enabling the Republic to exist freely. The media uplifts the First Amendment, part of which ensures freedom of the press.

Furthermore, journalists have the opportunity to root out corruption and lies within politics, economics, and social facets of local, national, and international communities.

Young people who are interested in media should take on the crucial task of revamping the systems, practices, and prominence of local papers in a new, modernized manner

For high schoolers, it may begin with contributing to your campus’ newspaper, whether you enjoy writing, photography, or even social media. Take the Sacramento County Breeze, which is a student-led publication, or the Tiny News Collective initiative for instance. Alternative news sources such as podcasts and citizen journalists will gain popularity, especially as American trust of mainstream media further declines. The new landscape of media provides a platform for all interests, and these new methods of communication are often more appealing to the youth of Generation Z.

As the generation that grew up with smartphones and social media, we have experienced a plethora of content. While consuming and creating online, we have learned what appeals to the eye and what can reel in an easily distracted mind. “Gen Z is one of the most politically active generations America has seen in quite some time, partially thanks to social media. But, the news that is spread across social media is sometimes false, and that’s where newspapers, especially small and local newspapers, fill in the gap. Without them, misinformation would be easier to spread in this age of interconnectivity and internet connection” says Colin Kemp (‘21), a student journalist in Sacramento.

Any individual who believes in democratic American values should promote and, if possible, contribute to the continuation of local newspapers, for they are the gatekeepers to veracity.