A friend’s father was murdered a few weeks before Christmas. He was shot at a trailhead after a botched robbery, with his wife witnessing his death. The murderer drove off to shoot another person a few miles away (though not fatally) and attempt another robbery before he was apprehended.
When I heard of this awful crime (through email) I immediately googled it to learn more. In subsequent days I searched the internet repeatedly. All I found, however, was one short, incomplete story from a television station. It gave no names and only the sketchiest information. Apart from that, it appeared that the crime did not exist.
I think there is a simple reason for the blackout: the area has no local daily newspaper.
I live in a community that has an excellent local newspaper, The Press Democrat, thoroughly covering local crime, local sports, local business, local politics and any other local news you can think of. I guarantee you that had my friend’s father been killed in our county, there would have been several detailed stories, with followup pieces on the subsequent prosecution and trial of the murderer.
There are many reasons to worry over the demise of newspapers. For me, most important is that the number of reporters assigned to national and international stories has plummeted, and with it the supply of in-depth understanding of complex stories. Twitter feeds are great for updates on spectacular ongoing dramas, but they don’t make up for the loss of experienced reporters.
Local newspapers don’t contribute much to this kind of investigative journalism, and never have. They have always depended on feeds from AP or the New York Times or other big media outlets for their national and international news. What local newspapers uniquely do, however, is create community. In particular, they assure us that nobody’s murder goes unnoticed by the community at large.