My 30-day local media challenge

A 4-step resolution to support local reporting and community

My New Year’s Resolution this year is simple: Support local media.

Ten years ago, my job as a journalist became a casualty of newspaper cuts when our entire department was eliminated. My first reaction was to cancel all my newspaper and magazine subscriptions — out of bitterness and a need to save money.

In 2008, I was part of the first waves of media cutbacks. Now I work at Marquette University and I teach media writing and media literacy.

After a decade, I’m back to subscribing to the physical paper. It’s been an actual delight — a much less noisy experience — to sit down at the end of the day with the paper, even if it feels like the ads are meant for someone decades older than me.

Reconnecting with local journalism brings me back to my roots.

In college, I interned for two summers at my small-town daily afternoon newspaper, the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen. I know firsthand that local journalism is where connections with the community are made, with countless simple acts like a photojournalist texting a video greeting to his neighbor from a Milwaukee Brewer on an Honor Flight.

I remember one of my own connections. In 2002, years before immigration was a national flashpoint, I wrote an award-winning four-part series about how my hometown became a hub for migrant workers in Wisconsin. I visited migrant homes and factories. I enlisted my friend and daughter of my Spanish teacher to translate. I immersed myself in the community around me — and shared what I learned. To this day, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

Local reporting could mean issues of regional interest like city council meetings and library reading programs. It could also mean beat reporters — who know their subjects best — reporting on topics of national interest: The Los Angeles Times writing about wildfires. The St. Louis Post Dispatch uncovering racism in their police ranks. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covering a lame duck session in the state legislature — and what they could do instead. The Indianapolis Star revealing child abuse inside USA gymnastics.

In my career, I’ve written for national outlets like Runner’s World and Budget Travel. I’ve been part of an expose on 20/20. I’ve gone viral and been on Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, Vox, etc. This year, I want to support what supports community.

My rules are simple: I can’t impose an entire national media blackout — I’ll still see trending topics on Twitter. But whenever possible I’m cutting back on national media in favor of local.

Here are the steps I’ll be taking, starting… now. I hope you’ll join me.

Step 1: Make a list of local media sources

When I wrote it out, there were more local news sources than I realized in a variety of mediums. You can choose what you like, from podcasts to print and for-profit to non-profit. Here are some of the sources I subscribe to and follow:

88Nine Radio Milwaukee*
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
WUWM* (Local NPR affiliate)
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service*
Milwaukee Business Journal
Urban Milwaukee
Bridge the City podcast
The Milwaukee Record
Breaking and Entering
The Marquette Wire
The O'Brien Fellowship*
Fox 6 anchor Ted Perry**

*Indicates non-profit
** Also my neighbor

Then I’m making sure I actually get these sources in my news feeds. I follow the local journalists on Twitter. I subscribe to their newsletters. And I cut the clutter that may hide them, which leads me to step 2…

Step 2: Unfollow, mute or unsubscribe national media

NOTE: I pay for digital subscriptions to The New York Times and Washington Post, and I will continue to do so. I still support national and international media. I’m not pausing payment on national media outlets during this experiment.

That said, the media I consume is ridiculously tilted toward national and beyond, from Apple News notifications to email newsletters. I simply want to restore more of a balance in the type of news I’m exposed to.

To that end, I’m pausing, muting and unsubscribing — at least temporarily. So long, WaPo daily digest. If I hear less about every Trump tweet, that’s OK.

Step 3: Read. Watch. Listen. Locally.

Part of what inspired me to challenge myself was reading local reporter Chelsey Lewis’ article “I have brain cancer, but it won’t stop me from getting outside and sharing my adventures with you.”

When I was a journalist, there were days I didn’t want to be in the office. Weekends. Holidays. Winter storms. Those were the days most normal people stay home.

But journalists know that the news doesn’t stop, and the days when everyone is huddled around their TV is often the days your work is needed the most.

Chelsey Lewis knows that. Brain cancer won’t stop her from doing her job.

But that’s not the only reason I support reporters like Chelsey. I subscribe because she’s a good writer and reporter. I subscribe because she wrote 100 things to do in Wisconsin in the winter, and now I know about snowshoeing in the city at Havenwoods State Forest a few miles from my home.

Her colleagues at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are reporting deeply on a variety of issues of importance, such as generational trauma, Erin Richards’ series on how a cycle of poverty, evictions and school transfers keeps families from moving forward, and how Milwaukee’s Salam School all-Muslim girls basketball team shatters stereotypes.

From Radio Milwaukee, I explore the history of buildings around me with urban spelunking. From Bridge the City, I hear interviews with aldermen and the county sheriff and learn about local elections to prepare for voting. I listen to my friend Lori Fredrich’s podcast and eat up knowledge about local restaurants food traditions.

I subscribe because local journalism is valuable to me and my everyday life.

Step 4: FINANCIALLY support local media

I know, we’re used to getting everything for free on the Internet. But supporting local media is practically free. They’re almost giving it away.

I don’t pay much. I’m a sustaining member of Radio Milwaukee, with a tax-deductible gift withdrawn from my bank account the first of every month. I’m also a subscriber to my local Journal Sentinel paper (I get the physical paper twice a week, and unlimited access to their website.) If you can pay for Netflix, you can pay for other forms of media.

As John Oliver made painfully clear in this segment, media is a food chain which would fall apart without local newspapers and “without newspapers around to cite TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer endlessly batting a ball of yarn.”

And yes, I’m talking to you the person watching this segment on YouTube using the Wi-Fi from the coffee shop underneath your apartment.

Put your money where your mouth is. Do you value your morning coffee? Then you pay for it or it disappears.

Do you value local news? Then you pay for it or it disappears.

I know that firsthand.

If that doesn’t convince you, read this thread from Joshua McKerrow, a photojournalist at the Capital Gazette.

I was recently talking with Kyle Hagge, Marquette University Trinity Fellow and co-host of the Bridge The City Podcast. We discussed the success of the Malheur Enterprise in rural Oregon, which has undergone a renaissance under editor and publisher Les Zaitz:

Reporter Pat Caldwell, who has been a journalist for 22 years, says Zaitz has transformed the way he works. “It’s all about detail,” Caldwell says, “detail, detail, detail. Y’know? And why, why, why, why? Why are you doing this? Why is this happening? Who pays for it?”

“It reminded me of the ongoing debate on what degree politics are national or local,” Hagge wrote in an email. “I believe we have seen a big swing in the national direction; however, maybe this is a sign that people are thirsty for more local coverage that can avoid instantly triggering people into their political tribes and instead focus on the issues that are affecting people more directly.”

[Emphasis mine]

Today, Bridge the City has expanded from podcasts to going live on Riverwest Radio. Hagge sees that medium as a way to do more current events episodes on Milwaukee with a focus on the common council and city hall. One recent live show discussed the new Milwaukee budget and participatory budgeting that has become more popular around the country.

This shows that there is an abundance of rich local news out there! But it’s easy to overlook it with the noise of Trump tweets and breaking news.

In 2019, let’s try to restore some balance. Maybe you’ll find your own community in the process.

Are you taking this 30-day challenge? I’d love to hear the results when you are finished. Leave a comment or a local source you plan to follow.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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