In our weekly marathon of trying to keep up with what’s going on in town halls and virtual committee meetings about schools and budgets, health and housing, we stop now and then to talk about the future of community journalism. We can’t be sure what it will look like, but this summer we’ve gotten some glimpses that have given us hope. A group of young writers who worked with us this summer has reminded us that every generation has new stories to tell. And not just their own, but the stories of their towns and schools, their past and future, and the world beyond. They reminded us why we never did buy the idea that local newspapers are done for.
It’s true they are endangered. Richard M. Cohen puts his finger on the main reason why in his essay on page C7 this week: the consolidation of ownership and the resulting greed-driven gutting of quality and loss of readers’ trust.
The Pew Research Center reports that the number of newsroom jobs at U.S. newspapers dropped by 51 percent from 2008 to 2019. There won’t be any community newspapers left without a new generation of writers, artists, editors, and designers needed to produce them. If the critically important work of reporting is to have a future, we need young people to learn how to do it.
We’ve made that part of our mission at the Independent, and you’ll find evidence of our efforts in Young Voices, section B of this week’s edition. We recruited six middle and high school writers and paired them with our summer journalism fellows to research and write stories over the last five weeks.
The students pitched their ideas, and everyone worked on making them better. Strikingly, they wanted to write about things we easily agreed were important: how grandparents and grandchildren are staying connected through this pandemic; how local nonprofit groups are faring; how Outer Cape middle school students decide which high school to go to; what’s behind the most famous local legends, and why the candy store on Main Street had to close. Their perspectives on these subjects were fresh and surprising.
The frustrations of working remotely made everything about this first experiment in creating a summer program for young journalists more difficult, but the results make us proud of all that was accomplished and eager to do more.
Our friend Louis Black, who started the Austin Chronicle almost 40 years ago and encouraged us to launch the Independent, says, “We’re too old to be doing this, but the young people don’t know how, and we have to show them.” He’s right, but there’s also a lot that the young people have to show us.