WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Small Town Papers & Citizen Journalism

Mar 7, 2017

The Boston Business Journal reported the parent company of GateHouse Media is once again talking about cutting expenses at the same time as it's talking about buying up more local newspapers across the country.

Gatehouse owns a number of newspapers in the TSPR listening region.

Shop Talk panelist Rich Egger said the company tends to keep local staff sizes at a minimum while giving large salaries and bonuses to its corporate executives. 

Panelist Will Buss said Gatehouse has bought up a lot of Illinois properties in recent years. He said the company strives to be profitable but often does so at the expense of local journalism.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton is encouraged to see businesses with an interest in buying newspapers. She said that suggests papers are still valuable commodities. But she’s discouraged to see that journalists are not treated as being valuable.

Crighton said many small towns are served only by their local newspapers.  She said papers that lose staff end up losing the ability to properly cover their towns.

The panelists also talked about whether citizen journalism could replace newspapers.  The panelists have their doubts.

Crighton said the concept was labeled “hyper-local journalism” in television news a few years ago. She praised those who are interested in their community and want to cover it, but she said the experiment did not fare well when she worked in Las Vegas.  Among other things, she said it was difficult to know whether hyper-local journalists were accurate.

Egger said citizen journalists should be interested in providing information but he’s concerned some might have an ax to grind. 

Buss said people sometimes tip off newsrooms and those people can provide valuable information. But he said the information still needs to be vetted and he questioned whether citizen journalists are inclined to fact check.  Buss said citizen journalists might be better off providing information to a professional newsroom and letting fulltime reporters do the leg work.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.