There’s a line in Tony Baranowski’s recent examination of community journalism that succinctly captures the value of local news.
“(Julie) Bergman calls the basic human need for a dependable local news source ‘the big pumpkin theory,’” Baranowski reports. Here’s how Bergman, a Minnesota newspaper publisher, explained it.
“They can get their national information and their statewide information from many different sources. Who else is going to run the picture of the big pumpkin their neighbor grew that they can talk about over coffee? I’m not making fun of that! I think that’s an important kind of feature news that makes a person and people feel a part of a place. And that’s why I’m so bullish on community newspapers, whatever form or shape they take.”
“It all comes back to the community part of community journalism,” Baranowski told me.
He is bullish on community newspapers, too, and you can read why in a report Poynter co-published with the University of West Virginia’s NewStart program, where he’s a 2020-2021 fellow. That report, “Black, White and Undead all over: The true story of innovation and perseverance of America’s small newspapers,” tells a different story than what’s happening to metro newspapers.
“The traditional model is totally doable if you are willing to embrace different methods,” said Baranowski, who is the director of local media for Times Citizen Communications in Iowa Falls, Iowa.
Running a locally owned newspaper can still work, he said, “as long as you remain dedicated to the community as a whole.”
We found this, even in the pandemic, in an oral history Poynter published from Teri Finneman, an associate professor at the University of Kansas, and William Mari, an assistant professor of media law at Louisiana State University.
Finneman said then that the majority of journalism in the U.S. is community journalism, she said, not metro journalism, “but it’s ignored, and so it’s important to us to give a voice, especially to locally owned and family-owned newspapers.”
You can find Baranowski’s report here, and while you’re at it, make some time to learn more about the NewStart program.
“Community journalists and community newspaper people need to have a little more faith in what they do,” Baranowski told me, “and a little bit more pride that hey, maybe you never got the big daily job offer that you were shooting for when you were 23 years old, but that doesn’t make your work or your experience any less impactful.”
This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter devoted to the telling stories of local journalists