The Statesman, other local news outlets provide valuable coverage national reporters can’t

I first read of a shooting at a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Sunday afternoon. By the evening, chills ran through me as I saw an update that the 26 people who died ranged in age from 5 to 72. Tears swelled in my eyes that night as I saw photos and videos from a candlelight vigil the city held.

Texas, while in a state of mourning, also seeks context and answers surrounding the horrific events of Sunday. And while I trust that journalists from all over the country are putting forth the due diligence required when reporting on a mass shooting, many will soon return to their headquarters. Local journalists will be the ones to tell me the stories of those affected by this tragedy. They will be the ones to remind me of the suffering of the Sutherland Springs community when most everyone else has moved on.

This is why Texans ought to feel troubled by news from Oct. 31 that Cox Media Group put the Austin American-Statesman up for sale and that the publication could face staff cuts.

Local news outlets, regardless of whether the medium is print, broadcast or online, are an invaluable resource for the communities they report on.

In an article the Statesman published announcing this, Media Business Analyst Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute weighed in, saying that although someone might take interest in owning the paper, “there is the chance that a new owner would make substantial reductions in news staff and that the community will be less well-served.”

Sure, we will always have the Washington Post or the New York Times to deliver top headlines, but what about the stories directly affecting our communities that seem minor in comparison? How can we allow those journalists and those stories to get lost in the mix?

This isn’t to say there is no value in getting news from prominent journalists. I myself felt starstruck when I attended a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival in which Maggie Haberman of the New York Times spoke.

But Maggie Haberman’s beat is at the White House. She isn’t going to dig through thousands of documents related to Frank Rodriguez, Mayor Steve Adler’s aide, and help me decide what to make of his possible conflicts of interest. The Statesman did that.

And Haberman isn’t going to inform me that the El Paso City Council decided to not allow a vote on whether or not the Duranguito neighborhood should be given a historical status, making the process of demolishing buildings in the area a greater challenge. The El Paso Times did that.

I read these breaking stories with great interest as someone who resides in both cities and as a registered voter in El Paso.

When I attended the College Media Association Conference in Dallas, Texas last month, journalist Bob Schieffer mentioned that more than 126 newspapers have shut down in the past 12 years because they could no longer afford to operate. 

Our ability to hold people accountable, particularly those in elected positions or any other form of power, begins in our communities. It is rooted in the work that local reporters, in the print industry and elsewhere, do day after day.

Reporters at the New York Times do not have the proximity or familiarity with my two Texas cities to provide the information I need. Similarly, I cannot expect to be a responsible voter in national elections if I don’t make a concerted effort to understand the ethical concerns of the leaders who more directly represent me.  

Local reporters are the building blocks of our understanding of the society we live in, and as such, are our greatest allies and watchdogs.

Additionally, I’ve been mentored by one current and three former writers for the Statesman. These women have been some of the most brilliant and helpful people thus far in my college career, and I could not imagine pursuing a career in journalism without their guidance.

Oftentimes, our top worry about today’s media landscape is the outlets producing fake news. However, we should be devoting more of our concerns to the journalists we’re at risk of losing, the journalists who will remain in Sutherland Springs for the weeks and years to come.