Is the death of newspapers the end of good citizenship?
The death of newspapers – by cutbacks, outright disappearance, or morphing into lean websites – means a reduction of watchdog reporting and less local information. Some say it has caused a drop in civic participation. Is it a blow to good citizenship?
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"There are all sorts of reasons to be excited about the digital revolution and what it means for news production. But for the moment – and I fear, for many, many years to come – we'll be living in an information ecology that's dramatically diminished because of the loss of local journalism," Mr. Klinenberg, the author, says. "Local newspapers are really the center of the news ecosystem. So if you get rid of newspaper reporting, your television news is going to be much thinner, your online news is going to be much thinner, your radio news will be thinner."Skip to next paragraph
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Back in New Orleans, the media landscape is still shifting. After The Times-Picayune announced its final daily edition, The Advocate, a newspaper headquartered 80 miles away in Baton Rouge, opened a New Orleans bureau.
"It's a small staff. It's all Picayuners, former Picayuners," says McCusker, who was among the first hired. The Advocate began printing a daily New Orleans edition. By the end of the first week of October, editors said, it had signed up 10,000 subscribers.
Milling, the civic activist, welcomed The Advocate. She doubts, however, that it will fill the void. "The Advocate staff pales in comparison to what the Picayune newsroom used to be," she says, worried that fewer stories overall will be covered. "And if you don't know what's going on, you can't react. You can't participate."
Milling still looks forward to the paper arriving with a thump on her doorstep between 5:30 and 6 a.m. each day. But it's not her news anymore.
"I never thought I would say The New York Times is my daily newspaper," she says. "Isn't that pitiful?"
From the ashes, a solution?
A few days after The Times-Picayune shuttered its daily edition, a 23-year-old New Orleans reporter flew to New York to accept a national Edward R. Murrow Award, one of journalism's top prizes. Jessica Williams wasn't from the Picayune or, for that matter, The Advocate. She was a staff reporter at The Lens, a scrappy nonprofit start-up for investigative journalism that is growing in response to the Picayune's cutbacks. Her story was about a woman who'd spent six years trying – and ultimately, failing – to get back into her damaged home after hurricane Katrina.
Two months earlier, Lens cofounder Karen Gadbois had also won national honors. The Society of Professional Journalists gave her its annual ethics award for exposing an unsavory practice among New Orleans police: disseminating the arrest records of crime victims.
If there's hope for journalism here – and elsewhere – experiments like The Lens may offer a glimpse of the future.
"We don't have any illusions of being the answer or the model," Ms. Gadbois admits. She says she doesn't believe any single effort will suffice. Newspapers may wane, but citizens' information needs are still immense.
"Without a community, a newspaper ceases to be relevant," she says. "But does a community cease to be relevant when there's no newspaper?"