Mangrove trees roots, Rhizophora mangle, above and below the water in the Caribbean sea, Panama. (Getty Images)

Mangrove trees roots, Rhizophora mangle, above and below the water in the Caribbean sea, Panama. (Getty Images)

Editorial: Support local newspapers work to hometowns’ benefit

A writer compares them to mangrove trees, filtering toxins and providing support to their neighbors.

By The Herald Editorial Board

In a recent commentary, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, marvels over mangroves, the trees found in tropical coastline areas that are easily identifiable by the tangle of above-the-surface roots that stand like stilts over the water.

Now endangered across the globe, mangroves are vital players in coastal ecosystems because they filter toxins from the water, provide protective habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife and hold shorelines in place, and in areas prone to hurricanes, they can buffer a storm’s energy and limit the damage to communities inland.

Friedman then turns his attention to the societal “mangroves” that — like the trees — filter social toxins and provide protective habitat and stability to American democracy. And as with the trees, our societal mangroves are also on their own endangered lists and include a loss of shame among those in American politics, courts and business, an erosion of civil discourse and religious observance and — finally — local journalism.

Writes Friedman: “Locally owned small-town newspapers used to be a mangrove buffering the worst of our national politics. A healthy local newspaper is less likely to go too far to one extreme or another, because its owners and editors live in the community and they know that for their local ecosystem to thrive, they need to preserve and nurture healthy inter-dependencies — to keep the schools decent, the streets clean and to sustain local businesses and job creators.”

But the mangrove forest of local journalism is giving way throughout the nation to news deserts, entire counties and regions that don’t have even one local source of community-based news because of the shuttering of weekly and daily newspapers, while at the same time attention turns to noxious cable news and whatever passes for news on social media.

The most recent annual report by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, The State of Local News for 2023, finds that the loss of local newspapers has accelerated to 2.5 local newspapers per week, up from two a week the previous year, leaving more than 200 counties as news deserts and meaning that more than half of all U.S. counties now have limited access to reliable local news and information.

Since 2005, the U.S. has lost nearly 2,900 newspapers, leaving some 6,000 papers, which include about 1,200 dailies and 4,790 weeklies.

New to the latest report, researchers also used predictive modeling to estimate the number of counties that risk news-desertification with the potential loss of local newspapers, placing 228 U.S. counties on a watch list.

That should be of concern because any diminution of local news coverage can be costly for communities. Without the coverage newspapers provide, false and misleading information thrives, and the threat of corruption in government and business goes unreported and unchallenged, further feeding public cynicism and driving down participation in local government and turnout for elections.

As well, there’s a loss in local connections throughout communities provided by reporting of local school sports, business and local government coverage, human-interest stories, letters to the editor and locally written essays and commentary.

Even those communities not parched by an absence of a local newspaper have sustained their own losses to local news coverage. As the nation has lost a third of its newspapers in those two decades, it has also lost two-thirds of its journalists — reporters, photographers and editors — a total of 43,000 leaving journalism over the same period. Even as papers survive, many of those that remain are hanging on with reduced staffs and are having to work even harder to cover the news readers expect.

The challenge for almost all newspapers now is to sustain their newsrooms and keep reporters on their beats and in their communities.

Many readers will have noticed recent changes in The Daily Herald as it works to keep an emphasis on local news coverage and the news-gathering employees who provide that content.

In a move to preserve resources to support local staff, byline watchers will have noticed that The Daily Herald has recently switched providers of its news wire services, dropping the Associated Press but adding The New York Times news service. That’s been a plus for Opinion page readers with the addition of a broader political spectrum of writers, including Friedman, not to mention the Times’ award-winning national and world news reporting and photos, joining that provided by The Washington Post wire services. But it’s meant that some popular features provided by the AP, among them Today in History and daily professional sports scores, are no longer available to offer Herald readers.

Previously we’ve written about initiatives in the state Legislature and in Congress meant to help sustain local newspapers and journalism. A few have gotten close to passage, such as 2022’s Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would have addressed the uncompensated use of news media content by Facebook and other social media sites; or the Community News and Small Business Support Act last year, that would have created two tax credit programs.

But legislative efforts such as those really are meant to encourage the community support of journalism that provides a significant benefit within those communities. In the end, the support that local newspapers need most is in a readership that appreciates and sustains what local newspapers provide. And that’s news that existing — subscribing — readers need to share with their neighbors.

It’s the intertwining roots of a mangrove that help support its neighbors.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, July 12

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Peterson, Ortiz-Self to House seats

The 21st district Democrats, each seeking a sixth term, are practiced and effective lawmakers.

Schwab: Trump can disavow Project 2025, but he’ll still use it

A wish list of ultra-conservative dreams, the revolution ‘will be bloodless,’ if we just go along with it.

AI offers opportunities to aid veterans

As artificial intelligence (AI) innovation continues to evolve, new applications for this… Continue reading

Investing in Herald’s staff will return investment

We have all watched with a mix of horror and sadness the… Continue reading

Krugman: The disconnect between good economy and bad attitude

With consumer numbers and opinion generally up, narratives explain our assumptions about how things are.

Comment: Next president could shift balance of 3-3-3 high court

After an eventful term, the court’s moderate conservatives may pause its to-do list. But an election looms.

Matthew Wallace, of D&L Fence, Inc., nails in a fence support on a model home at the Overlook at Riverfront on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 in Everett, Wa. The project by Polygon Northwest has the first 30 homes, of 425 planned along the riverfront, in various stages of construction. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Editorial: Everett request for property tax lift reasonable

The increase to $2.19 per $1,000 of assessed value brings it closer to par with other cities in the county.

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Cortes to 38th district House seat

In his first term, he successfully sponsored legislation that serves his district and the state.

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Return Davis to 32nd District House seat

The three-term Democrat leads policy on domestic violence, addiction and law enforcement issues.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, July 11

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Comment: To protect our children’s future, reject I-2109

Ending the capital gains tax for the wealthy would cut billions of dollars in funding for children’s benefit.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.