Why We Need to Support Local Journalism

  Scott Slayton | ChristianHeadlines.com Contributor | Monday, January 31, 2022
Why We Need to Support Local Journalism

We don’t have polls that measure lack of trust in the American media in the 18th and 19th centuries, so I can’t say what I am about to say with absolute certainty. However, we most likely live in a time period in which trust in the news media in the United States has never been lower. This corresponds with our lack of trust in the government and many other important institutions. Just as many are suggesting that the best way to reform trust in government is to start at the local level, perhaps the best way to restore trust in the news media is to restore a focus on local journalism.

One excellent example of the potential power of local journalism emerged this week in Alabama. A couple of writers for the Alabama Media Group, with funding from Columbia, published an article about an egregious abuse of power in the small town of Brookside, Alabama. Brookside, a town of fewer than 2,000 residents located on I-22, has seen the explosive growth of its police department over the last decade. The growth has been driven by aggressive policing on the Interstate and in town, resulting in fines and fees providing half of the town’s income.

From 2016 to 2020, the town’s revenue grew from $431,637 to $1,233.469. In 2016, fines and forfeitures stood at $71,931, less than twenty percent of the budget. By 2020, income from fines and forfeitures rose $610,307, meaning that almost half of the city’s budget relies on the police department writing tickets, making arrests, and confiscating personal property.

The article told numerous stories of people drowning in debt because of the fines they incurred in Brookside. A pastor and his daughter told the story of an arrest where they were abused with racist language. Many who felt they had been unfairly stopped and given a ticket simply paid the fine because it was cheaper than fighting the ticket, which the Brookside PD probably counts on in many cases.

The response in Alabama was overwhelming. Countless state legislators promised to look into the issue and suggest legislation that would prevent other small towns from doing the same. Alabama Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth asked for an official state audit of the town and its police department. In response to the backlash, the town’s police chief submitted his resignation.

In the case of the Brookside Police Department, local journalists were given the time and resources to do a thorough investigation of the accusations against the department. They scoured the city’s budget through publicly available reports. They received tips about people who had terrible experiences with Brookside and interviewed them. They went to the city court and interviewed people. They submitted questions to the city’s leaders and allowed them to respond. Their work turned up dozens of unconstitutional injustices and led to possible long-term solutions.

Local journalists know an area and the people involved. They build up trust in the area over the years. They understand the needs, frustrations, and challenges of the people who live in the community. A good local journalist ferrets out corruption in local communities but also knows how to highlight the positives taking place in the life of the community. Rather than staying in an office and relying on social media and the Internet to generate news stories, they wear out shoe leather in their local communities. They are not able to do this work if we are not buying local papers and supporting the businesses that advertise in them.

Christians care about good journalism because we believe that the truth matters. We also know that human beings have a propensity to abuse power and need to be held accountable. Because of this, we need to support local journalism. Subscribe to your local paper, even if it is a small weekly paper. Also subscribe to the local paper of the closest city to you to support those who report on the current affairs in your state. This will help you to stay informed while also giving journalists the resources they need to do the work.

Democracy suffers when people are ignorant of local affairs or are confused about what to believe. If we demand good local journalism and then support the people who are doing the work, it will strengthen our local communities, which in turn will strengthen our nation.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

Photo courtesy: Roman Kraft/Unsplash


Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”