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Mendon Musings

By Kevin Rudden

Last month, I attended a conference about how to keep small-town journalism thriving, and I thought I would share with you some of what I learned.

You may not realize it, but the trend over the past few decades has been for more and more of the larger daily newspapers to be bought up by companies that have dramatically reduced staffs and consolidated papers in order to make aggressive profit goals. In fact, one-third of newspapers in the U.S. have changed owners since 2004.

The result has been what is called a "news desert" – in other words, no local daily or weekly newspapers at all – in certain parts of the country.

The one segment of the newspaper business that is not only surviving, but also thriving, is local weekly or bi- weekly newspapers.

Why in this digital age are local newspapers flourishing?

Based on focus group conducted across the country, here's what the experts said:

• First and foremost, local newspapers provide "content"

(I do not like that digital-era term) that cannot be

found on television, radio, or larger daily newspapers.

• They are locally owned (Only 17 percent of newspapers

in the U.S. still are!) and supported by local advertisers

and readers.

• They are affordable.

• They feature "quality" writing.

• They feature photographs of local events.

Having once worked in corporate America, I would think that any large corporation hell-bent on profit would know that. Obviously, most do not.

The other part of the conference focused on the concept known as "fake news." Yes, there is fake news in the form of the "I must say something about this on TV or social media in the next five seconds before someone else does."

The consensus of the conference was that most people today – bombarded by "news" throughout the day – do not or cannot take the time to listen or read and then critically think about what they've just heard or read. Additionally, they let their "confirmation bias" affect them, as well.

A "confirmation bias" basically means that if you

think about something in a certain way, you view what you hear or see in such a way that it confirms what you already believed. Thus you have a scenario like the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

The take-away from the "fake news" discussion was that "fake news" is occurring more at the national level than the local level. And, it's up to each of us – as one speaker said – to remember President Ronald Reagan's statement, "Trust, but verify."


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