Director's Note | April 2024

Emily Metzgar photo with Jargon overlay

In mid-March, FT Magazine published an article titled No News is Bad News. “The U.S. has lost two-thirds of its newspaper journalists since 2005,” it noted. A commenter in a subreddit discussing the story declared flatly, “The golden age of small town corruption has already started.”

Concerns like those voiced by the anonymous commenter, combined with renewed awareness of the role of journalism in democratic governance, are driving a massive philanthropic movement, Press Forward, dedicated to raising $500 million dollars in support of reinvigorating local news around the United States.

Lead funders include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. To date, there are 17 local chapters of Press Forward across the country, creating place-based initiatives, driven by specific information needs of their communities. Dale Anglin, director of Press Forward, recently said, “The challenge of rebuilding America’s local news landscape is vast, and will depend on multi-layered solutions at the local and national level.”

Earlier this year, a group of more than two dozen journalism deans and directors, including myself, convened to discuss the growing number of ways that college journalism programs are meeting these challenges. Student contributions to covering the “un-newsed” – a great term I picked up at a recent conference —  are growing and it’s a phenomenon worth tracking. Indeed, a recent report from the University of Vermont’s Center for Community News pointed to more than 10,000 student-produced local news stories running in more than 1500 outlets around the United States in 2023 alone.

The School of Media and Journalism’s reputation for being a player in this space is also growing. The Collaborative NewsLab is a Creative Commons news bureau where MDJ students report on important regional stories, often in concert with regional partners. Indeed, in December’s Jargon, we highlighted a partnership between MDJ and Ideastream which saw MDJ students producing five multimedia stories focused on the lingering impact of the train derailment and ecological disaster in East Palestine. In December, these student stories aired on public radio stations in Northeast Ohio and beyond. This semester, Professor Jacqueline Marino, the key faculty driver behind MDJ’s efforts to participate in this space, is working with students in her Advanced Magazine Writing class to develop stories for distribution via NewsLab so that our students can continue to contribute to the local and regional news ecosystem. We’re working with partners in the College and elsewhere to identify funding sources to continue supporting these efforts for the future.

NewsLab is just one example of how MDJ is connected to this issue. Professional in Residence Mizell Stewart is on the board of directors of the National Trust for Local News, a non-profit “dedicated to strengthening community news.” Sue Zake, a former MDJ faculty member, and Kevin Dilley, former director of Kent State Student Media are playing key roles in the early success of Signal Akron as editor and community journalism director respectively. 

It's wonderful to see so much excitement about efforts to revivify local news around the country. I’m proud that the wider MDJ community is contributing, not just to conversations about the problem, but to real efforts to be part of the solution. The erosion of local news has raised alarm for years, but there’s real momentum behind current efforts to fill the voids created by the decimation of the local journalism landscape.

POSTED: Monday, April 1, 2024 03:04 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2024 05:05 PM
Emily Metzgar, Director, School of Media and Journalism