Those of you who pay attention to the state of the media in your own states may recognize this story. It is a story that could have happened in your state, or maybe it’s happening there like it is here.
Here in Louisiana, the biggest newspaper in Baton Rouge, The Advocate, has opened up two bureaus in other parts of south Louisiana. The first is in Lafayette, where I live, and the Acadiana Advocate has spent years competing with the locally-owned Gannett paper, The Daily Advertiser. In New Orleans, the New Orleans Advocate has had to compete with the long-running Times-Picayune, the preeminent paper of the Big Easy.
They competed, that is, until yesterday, when it was announced that The Advocate‘s owners purchased the Times-Picayune.
Now, these two papers didn’t just compete in New Orleans. They competed in Baton Rouge, the state’s capital. Covering state government was a competitive business between the two. But now, the competition is over. The Advocate won. I’ve talked with quite a few people who have flat out said that The Advocate‘s owners’ plan all along was to become THE state’s media.
The problem is, The Advocate isn’t just THE state’s media. It has worked tirelessly under Democratic governor John Bel Edwards to become THE state media.
The Advocate‘s coverage of politics in Baton Rouge has always been one-sided, but the fact that they had to compete with the Times-Picayune did force them to try and create a better product. Without that competition, they are going to feel very little need to compete and create that product. They will have the confidence to keep going as they had been, and to go at it harder. After all, they won.
Now, Gannett has a not-insignificant presence in the state, but their closest paper is here in Lafayette, about an hour away from the state capitol – unless there’s a wreck on I-10 (as there often are), in which case it’s more like an hour and a half.
Gannett is also dealing with company-wide cuts, staff-layoffs, and some competitive poaching (the Lafayette paper lost a huge chunk of its editorial staff to the Acadiana Advocate‘s newsroom). They currently don’t appear to have the manpower to compete at that level. They are restructuring how they are running their papers at a regional level. They can get a general state capitol reporter, but they can’t have a full staff ready to go there and work it day in and day out, especially during legislative sessions.
Does this scenario seem familiar to you?
Local newspapers are struggling. They have smaller budgets and smaller newsrooms. A recovering economy will help them stay afloat as advertisers get more confident about advertising, but they are struggling. Television and radio stations have to produce newscasts, run shows, and juggle several different media at once. They don’t have time to just sit there and work on their digital print content all day. So, they can’t compete with the level of reporting that newspapers do.
There is less and less competition in this marketplace, and there are fewer and fewer voices we can read and listen to in order to get an idea of what’s going on. As much as we declare the media a liberal institution, they still perform a necessary job. When you have fewer people doing that job, the quality of that product will get worse and worse over time.
If you aren’t already, I do encourage you to support your local media as much as you can. You can’t replace them once they’re gone. Smaller local outlets tend to be a lot better than regional or national outlets in covering the issues important to you. They are the experts in your area. That’s why you need them.
The national press gets huffy when you don’t show them respect and treat them like the defenders of democracy they believe they are. But in reality, it’s the death of the small media that will hurt democracy the most.