He is the most talked-about human being on the planet.
That’s how The New York Times described President Donald J. Trump last December, and no one accused the paper of record of hyperbole. Since Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States a year ago, the media has devoted enormous resources to cover him. He has returned the favor by providing an almost daily stream of disruptive pronouncements, soundbites and tweets guaranteed to dominate the national conversation.
In the face of such an overwhelming amount of Trump-related news, it’s fair to wonder exactly what important local news stories are being missed — and where local news fits into the news diets of Americans and business plans for publishers.
Here’s what we know. A significant number of media outlets — print, digital, radio, television — from major markets to some of the smallest remain committed to covering local news. The country is shaped by what’s happening on the local level; the real impact of national policies play out locally.
For all the noise surrounding the president, most journalists aren't chasing the latest leak from the Trump administration. They're doing the hard work of local journalism -- holding leaders and institutions accountable, working to be the essential source of credible news and information for their communities.
That’s why local journalism, which arguably affects readers more directly than the latest story about Trump, remains vibrant.
Here are recent examples of investigative local journalism at McClatchy, which operates 30 local news brands in 14 states:
▪ The Kansas City Star ran the explosive story, “Why so Secret, Kansas?” which revealed the culture of secrecy that “permeates nearly every aspect” of the state’s government.
▪ The Fresno Bee ran a series over nine months about teen pregnancy, an issue especially important in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where teen birth rates are high. The “Too Young” series triggered a city-wide conversation about sex education and earned reporter Mackenzie Mays the wrath of the Fresno school board president.
▪ The Miami Herald ran a six-part series, “Fight Club,” that documented abuses within the Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice’s detention centers and residential programs, sparking a request in December by the State Attorney for a grand-jury investigation.
Many other local media outlets produced equally compelling and powerful stories:
▪ The editor of the tiny Storm City Times (Storm City, Iowa) won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his editorials that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in his state.
▪ Reno Gazette-Journal ran a year-long investigation of deaths at the Washoe County Jail. “Death Behind Bars” uncovered a 600% increase in deaths at the jail that received little oversight and were not disclosed.
▪ The Charleston-Gazette Mail won a Pulitzer in 2017 for a series of stories on the opioid crisis in rural West Virginia.
Where some media companies may have faltered or disappeared, given declines in advertising and print audience, digital alternatives have sprung up. Look no further than outlets like Wisconsin News Watch, which has produced several multi-part stories with strong impact in 2017. Or Charlottesville Tomorrow, which has not only served the Virginia city for more than a decade, but is also a critical news partner for the local newspaper, The Daily Progress, contributing more than 2,000 articles since 2009.
In Philadelphia, veteran journalists launched Billy Penn, a mobile-first local news platform designed to spark civic engagement, and through its owner, Spirited Media, has grown to include new local news outlets in Pittsburgh and Denver.
True, the media industry is buffeted by the strong headwinds caused by digital disruption. It has the added challenge of contending with a president who questions the integrity of many news companies on an almost daily basis. Yet, Trump’s criticisms have the hidden benefit of bringing needed attention to the role of a strong press and its contribution to strengthening our democracy.
The constant spotlight on Trump also increases awareness of the importance of solid journalism.
That attention can boost local journalism as well, but it also needs the support of citizens, community and business leaders who find this information so compelling they are willing to pay for it in the form of subscriptions or advertising.
Local news connects us in powerful ways and strengthens communities. It should not be overlooked or drowned out by the constant blare of Trump coverage. In the age of Trump, these stories are needed more than ever.
Craig Forman is President and Chief Executive Officer of McClatchy, the media company that owns The Reporter, the Keynoter and the Miami Herald.