I am, by nature, a trouble maker, someone who rocks the boat, stirs the pot, pokes a finger into the eye of convention and (insert cliche here). As a journalist, I subscribe to Finley Peter Dunne’s belief that it is "the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
Journalism is best served when it has an edge and stretches the limits. Mainstream media is controlled by a half-dozen mega corporation and lost the edge a long time ago. Locally-owned newspapers, radio or television stations fade into obscurity as the massive media chains take over. Here in Floyd, the local weekly is owned by Media General, the mega-empire based in Richmond that also owns Channel 10 in Roanoke and a half dozen other newspapers in Southwestern Virginia.
In Hillsville, Heartland Publications of Connecticut bought the Carroll News and fired most of the staff because they were too old, had been at the paper too long and cost too much money to pay. This came after the new owners visited the paper and said they planned "no changes" for the immediate future. Instead, they immediately started cutting staff. Forget the need for some local history and institutional knowledge. This is all about business and return to shareholders. Maybe they should call it the company Heartless Publications. The Roanoke Times, owned by Landmark Communications in Norfolk, is offering early retirement buyouts for more than 20 long time employees. Those who don’t take the package face layoffs with far less benefits.
In recent weeks I’ve become more involved in helping build strong, community-based journalism efforts on the web. Next week I head for Washingto participate in the Media Giraffe, Journalism That Matters. It’s a gathering of those who work in both traditional and online journalism and we will work on, among other things, the "Next Newsroom Blueprint" and examine how to improve the quality of local online journalism.
For the last dozen years, my online journalism efforts have been directed at national politics through Capitol Hill Blue. I’m scaling back my work at Blue so I can concentrate on developing strong community journalism sites that will serve not only Floyd County but also other rural areas that need frequently-updated, reliable sources of information on a daily basis. My involvement in Media Giraffe is just part of the equation. I’m also working with the Knight Citizens News Network and the Center for Citizen Media.
With luck, we can save local news before it becomes a lost cog in the giant media machine. And, with luck, maybe we can raise a little hell, kick over a few trashcans, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I can’t help it. It’s in my genes.