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If you’re thankful for local news, support it 

A reader asked me the other day why no news outlet in town was reporting on a local company that financial analysts speculate is on the verge of bankruptcy. He couldn't fathom why none thought it important.

I explained that it wasn't necessarily that no news outlet thought the topic wasn't important. But rather that delving into the topic would require them to divert resources they couldn't spare. In other words, the topic wasn't important enough.

He harrumphed, and I was tempted to tell him to be thankful for what he had. The phrase is an age-old platitude, but like many timeworn platitudes, there's truth in it.

And it bears repeating this Thanksgiving in the wake of a grim report on the dire state of local news. The report, "Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions," by PEN America, painted a portrait familiar to journalists.

With advertising revenue in a digitally-enhanced freefall, newsrooms have been forced to slash their reporting ranks. Newspapers have been hardest hit, but broadcast and digital news outlets haven't been spared. The result is that important matters go uncovered.

School board and city and town council meetings, where millions of public dollars are in the hands of a few, pass without notice. Reporters don't have the time or expertise to follow up on promising tips. Business, arts, and culture reporting disappear.

All of that, the report read, has a dumbing-down effect on society. Too many people are left without access to reliable information about where they live. They're uninformed.

Newspapers are a punching bag nowadays, spoken of with disdain for everything they aren't by people who remember everything they were. For centuries, newspapers informed, bound, and propelled forward their communities.

They still do. Look no further than the important work churned out by CITY and the Democrat and Chronicle in the last few weeks alone.

It was CITY that first raised questions about a Monroe County Legislature bill that would have moved the goalposts for the incoming county executive. The bill was later withdrawn amid public outrage.

CITY, too, has led local coverage of a county law that seeks to protect first responders but will likely end up getting the county in legal trouble.

Thanks to the D&C, we're learning more every day about the shady dealings of developer Bob Morgan, on whom Rochester once pinned its hopes for downtown. The newspaper has given us unparalleled insight into what the Child Victims Act means for our community.

Local television stations have done their share, too.

WROC-TV's coverage of mobile home parks in distress has been relentless and prompted positive changes. WHAM-TV first reported that the Eastman School of Music acquiesced to China's demand that South Korean students not attend an orchestral tour there. Eastman backpedaled after other media, including CITY, raised the profile of the story.  

These are all topics that few of us would have had any idea about if not for local media. They illustrate the essential role that journalism plays in communicating critical information and elevating concerns within a community.

For that, we should be grateful for what is left of our local news ecosystem. But we also must recognize that the ecosystem is in peril.

The merger of Gannett, the parent company of the D&C, and GateHouse, another monster newspaper chain, is complete, and the new company plans to cut at least $300 million in "ineffeciencies." You know what that means.

Or do you? A recent Pew survey suggested many Americans are oblivious to the dire straits of local news.

Seventy-one percent of respondents said they thought their local news outlets were doing well financially. Meanwhile, just 14 percent said they had paid for or donated to a local news source in the last year. Do the math.

The PEN report offered several solutions, namely creating mechanisms for private and public investment in local news.

To that end, CITY is working on creating a membership model to be rolled out in the new year, to give those of you who value what we do an opportunity to support us in a different way. CITY is, and will remain, a free publication. But it isn't free to produce.

We at CITY think we strengthen our community and help make it a more inviting and vibrant place to live.

If you do, too, considering being part of the solution and support local journalism. For those of you who already do, in whatever form, thank you.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.

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