Yeah, yeah, I know: Guy in local media touts the value of local media. I get it. But gimme a second.
Twice in the past few weeks, the Durango area has experienced widespread power outages. I escaped unscathed for the first, on Aug. 5. But my phone didn’t. Text after text from friends: Is your power out? How about now? Now? Do you have candles? During the second outage, on Aug. 21, I wasn’t so lucky. I arrived home to the next-door neighbor sitting on his porch shouting to me over the other neighbor’s generator that the power was out. I took to the La Plata Electric Association website to get to the bottom of all this but essentially learned that, you know, the power was out.
All the while, in both instances, there was one group of people working on our behalves to monitor the outages, to be in touch with LPEA officials about the extent of the outages, how they were caused, and what was being done to restore power: The Durango Herald.
Yes, the media. The mainstream media. The lamestream media. The “enemy of the people,” “the source of division in our country.” Fake news, fake news, and more FAKE NEWS!
We have a president who has opened a full-on war, an all-out attack on “the media.” While dangerous, unfortunate, and un-American, Donald Trump is primarily referring to the national political media like CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC. And what he’s really attacking is coverage of him and his administration that he doesn’t like, believes to be unfair, and wishes would go away. But his attacks trickle down to all media. Suddenly, even your hometown rag doing stories about a local girl done good is painted with this broad brush of fake news. Whether you’re a nationally-syndicated political talk radio host, or the murky-voiced guy reading local news on the local NPR station: fake news. Whether you’re receiving leaks straight from the Justice Department or reporting on tax increases down at City Hall, you’re working for an institution that wants to destroy America.
So first, the media. It’s an immense term that describes a vast and diverse set of organizations whose purposes and intents vary widely. College radio stations, hometown weeklies, metro dailies, local TV networks, national magazines, hyper-local blogs, Facebook memes, partisan news websites, books, entertainment pubs. The list goes on. Attacks on “the media” are felt throughout all of these entities, regardless of the things they cover.
Second, you may argue, a lot of these media outlets are flawed. Now, I’ve spent my entire career in newspapers, sometimes in massive, bustling newsrooms sitting beside Pulitzer Prize winners, and sometimes in tiny, sleepy newsrooms sitting beside 20-year-olds writing about youth swimming. And no matter where I’ve worked, the newspaper sucks, according to a vocal handful. We are accused of allowing our biases (often political) to influence which stories we cover and how we cover them, that we cover the wrong stories or stories less worthy than others, and get things wrong. To that, I say, yes, yes, and yes. But it’s to less of an extent than many think, rarely conscious, and no matter the size of the operation, nearly always happens despite best efforts to do the opposite.
I will never argue that such publications as The Durango Herald are perfect or above criticism. But the people working here are decent (at the very least) and some are even nationally-distinguished journalists. They work hard – for comparatively little pay, mind you – to inform all of us what is going on behind the scenes in our city, to share the stories of the dynamic people who live here or those who have little voice, and yes, to keep us updated during power outages.
I do know this: We need our local media, however imperfect. Especially now in a time when facts and reality seem to be on a sliding scale, where real information is scarce, where rumors big and small run wild on social media, where you don’t know if what people say is actually true. If not, who will keep tabs on what is happening at City Hall? Or with our utility companies, or the oil and gas industry? Who would keep our elected leaders accountable? We have people working to inform us when roads shut down, when accidents happen, when fires scorch Lightner Creek, when mine waste turns our water orange, when a new restaurant opens, or when all the bears are getting into all the trash cans.
There may be other sources for this information, but they are disparate at best. But right now, we have a group working on behalf of the people of Durango, connecting us, advocating, informing us, asking questions to power on our behalf, seeking and sharing real, actual facts. Let’s support these people – get a subscription, sign up for text alerts and the daily newsletter, share their work on social media, bookmark the home page. Let’s encourage these people, let’s support the businesses that buy print and online advertising. We desperately need local media now more than ever.
David Holub is an employee of Ballantine Communications, which owns The Durango Herald. He assures you that no one has ever told him, or even hinted at, what he should write about in this space.