“Local News Knits the Fabric of American Life”

From a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Peter Funt headlined “Local News Knits the Fabric of American Life”:

Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.

An inside-page headline in the June 25 Carmel Pine Cone read, “Pine falls before tree service gets to it.” City forester Sara Davis told the paper that “the tree’s condition declined rapidly due to drought and an infestation of bark beetles.”

You could say local news is suffering a drought. We hear about it all the time with the closing of newspapers and the shrinking of staffs—for instance, the recent departure of 40 journalists at the Chicago Tribune following its sale to a hedge fund….

Those who fret over the loss of local news usually focus on reporting about municipal government. But reading about the Carmel tree shifted my thoughts to little things that give a community its heartbeat. I called the Pine Cone’s editor, Paul Miller. He had an accomplished career as a news producer at CBS and NBC before buying the Pine Cone in 1997.

“Perpetuating the culture and the traditions, the foibles and the eccentricities of a local culture is vital,” he said. “I’d feel irresponsible if I didn’t try to pay homage to that stuff in every issue.”

Operating in an affluent community with an older readership that values its local newspaper as much as its internet options makes things easier for the Pine Cone. It prints 18,000 copies and distributes them free. Mr. Miller says his operation remains profitable despite a dip in advertising revenue during the pandemic.

Local news knits the fabric of American life. While websites have picked up some slack, true neighborhood news is actually more difficult, and costly, to generate. Anyone with a computer can reprint handouts from local businesses and town government, but who is going to cover the news when a tree falls on Lincoln Street?

Or, for that matter, without the Pine Cone’s front-page photo on June 25, how would Carmel residents know about the 89 pink plastic flamingos that turned up in a front yard on Ocean Avenue? The display was organized by the local Woman’s Club to surprise Flo Snyder on her 89th birthday.

It’s easy to scoff at devoting paper and ink to pink flamingos and a rotted pine. But if a tree falls and there’s no one there to cover it, does it make news? Alas, probably not.

Mr. Funt’s new book is “Self-Amused: A Tell-Some Memoir.”

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