South Carolina journalists speak out about the importance of local journalism

October 13, 2018

National Newspaper Week kicked off its 78th annual celebration of newspapers and their employees on Oct. 7.

While the event is designed to acknowledge the role of newspapers and the effort journalists put into them, it also discussed key issues facing the newspaper industry.

The industry has been in flux for the past several years. With technology revolutionizing mass communications and data distributions, the print industry has been in decline since the ’90s.

Traffic to newspaper websites has been increasing since 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, but digital circulation can be difficult to track.

One of the hardest hit parts of the business has been local newspapers.

South Carolina journalists shared their opinions on the role local journalism plays, particularly in how newspapers affect their communities.

“I think local journalism serves an important role as a watchdog for local government,” said S.C. Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers. “But more than that, it serves as the glue that holds a community together. That means publishing club notices, sports new, school news, obituaries and so many other things that happen in a local community.”

Carolyn Click, a journalism professor at USC Columbia with more than 35 years of experience as a print journalist, spent much of her career reporting on local news.

“To me, it’s the backbone of news coverage and how we understand community, and how we function in democracy,” Click said.

Click said journalists often act as mediators between citizens and elected officials.

“I always think that, you as a journalist, are a voice for a lot of people that in many ways are voiceless,” Click said.

Benjamin Triana, a professor at USC Aiken who teaches media in culture to students, called the issues facing local news sources a “dire situation” that must be addressed.

“It’s one of the most difficult industries right now, and I think it’s in a very precarious position,” Triana said.

Triana said it is vital newspapers are able to adapt to their audiences. Although the Aiken Standard has many print subscribers, Triana’s students are more interested in reading online.

“I think it’s what newspapers can do digitally,” Triana said. ”…It has to be tailored to the community and hopefully grows together.”

Newspapers are also heavily affected by political polarization across the country.

“I think this is a really challenging time for journalists because we have this sense of division in this country, and the media has now been drawn into that for better or for worse,” Click said.

“I hope communities will continue to support their papers because they’ll miss them if they’re gone,” Rogers said.

To learn more about National Newspaper Week, visit nationalnewspaperweek.com.

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