The chasm between the coastal media centers and the country’s heartland is laid bare. Deep discontent, long simmering in the manufacturing Midwest and Appalachian coal country, went largely unrecognized until this year’s populist primal scream. Even then, national coverage often came laced with enough condescension to remind people in the heartland why they distrust the media.
Not so long ago, “the media” would have included familiar reporters from strong regional papers, now sadly downsized and in full retreat from rural bureaus and issues. This election season more often saw the occasional correspondent parachute in for the misery tour of the unemployed and addicted. Tweet some poverty porn, tut-tut at a Confederate flag, and there’s no reason to get into the messiness of massive economic dislocation and the toxic legacy of resource extraction.
Yes, I’m a little bitter. And I’m oversimplifying. But I believe that restoring credibility for journalism must include rebuilding the capacity for journalists to work within the communities they cover.
Green shoots abound with recently established investigative reporting centers and collaborative media partnerships. In Illinois, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting recently joined with other nonprofit outlets. Louisville Public Media, where I work, houses the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, and this year we launched the Ohio Valley ReSource in partnership with public media stations in three states. The ReSource is one of eight regional journalism collaboratives recently started with short-term funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They are in Arkansas, Indiana, the Great Lakes region, and elsewhere.
These partnerships, plus earlier projects such as Harvest Public Media and Inside Energy, can help fill the void of local and regional coverage but they must all find paths to long-term sustainability. These should be recognized as an essential public service and nurtured to allow local trust and support to grow.