It was a slogan that fueled the environmental movement, promoting the idea that every act makes a difference and that collectively, we could create a better world. Originally coined by Yoko Ono and made popular by her husband John Lennon, it also aptly describes what’s happening in community journalism today.
In the final days of December, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. closed its doors. It’s been more than a decade since it moved from Rosslyn to a $450-million, six-story, pristine facility on Pennsylvania Avenue. And now, the Newseum’s artifacts are being scattered around to other sites. The closure serves as a living metaphor for the news industry itself.
About seven years ago, I closed the doors of the weekly newspapers in the northern Shenandoah Valley for a single day and took the staffs to visit the Newseum. Everyone knew the trajectory of the industry and morale was less than vibrant. So, we piled into a rented van, and I paid for their tickets (being a paid museum was a disadvantage for the Newseum in a city full of amazing free ones).
I closed the offices and paid for their tickets, not to win their favor, but to take a moment to stop, breathe and remind them, and myself, what it is we do, and why we do it.
For the past 30 years or more, the Fourth Estate has endured the same corporate mergers that have been consolidating the power of many industries in the hands of a few. On a large wall in the former Newseum, a colorful illustration told the story of how corporate media grew by simply showing little fish being eaten by larger ones — a trend that began in broadcast in the 1980s, but print would remain more independent, less consolidated and media king until the Great Recession crossed paths with the iPhone.
Many major industries in the U.S. have a handful of players that typically dictate the environment for the rest, and now with the decline of print media in the last decade, the trend has more than caught up with community journalism.
But here’s where journalism is taking a similar path to agriculture — the new trend is for locally grown.
Lawrence Emerson, a graduate of Luray High School and James Madison University, may be one of the best success stories in online community journalism in Virginia with more than 100,000 unique visitors to his site each month. He and his wife, Ellen, launched FauquierNow.com eight years ago and have grown to a staff including longtime, award-winning journalist Don del Rosso, who may know more about Fauquier County than anyone alive.
Former Page News and Courier reporter Andrew Jenner has joined with two partners to form HburgCitizen.com In a relatively short period of time, they have developed thousands of followers with a focus on the Friendly City’s government and politics. The Harrisonburg-based site utilizes nearly a dozen free lance writers and photographers.
BlueRidgeIndependent.com now covers issues in Madison and Rappahannock counties. After former journalists first launched the site in November 2018, they were receiving more than 14,000 visits a month by April 2019.
A community online site serving Charlottesville is funded through a non-profit, another trend in the media industry trying to fill the void being left by the demise of print. Charlottesville Tomorrow focuses on economic development, education, business and government.
Other online community news sites have cropped up all across the state, and the country, in just the last few years. Currently, as many state press associations see enrollments declining, one of the fastest growing organizations in the industry is LION (Local Independent Online News [Publishers]). Thousands of former journalists and citizens concerned about the growing voids in local news coverage are taking an entrepreneurial path and trying to make a difference.
That’s what we’re trying to do with PageValleyNews.com
The co-owners of this community news website live right here in the Page Valley. We believe in seeking the truth, with no political bias, in order to enlighten the citizenry about the elected officials that serve them. We believe in fairness to all parties, and we pledge to carry a passion for this community, whether it be as cheerleader or critic.
Much like agricultural consumers want their produce fresh and local, those who consume news are trending toward the same.
We’re here to provide that.
Welcome to PageValleyNews.com
I have fond memories of my time in Luray at the Page News and Courier. I was hired by Lou Emerson and John Waybright was the captain of the ship. I learned a lot about the newspaper business from both of them. They were professionals who knew how to produce a product that the public wanted, by providing fair and honest reporting. I am saddened by the state of newspapers today, but your article has enlightened me by providing an explanation of how community journalism has a chance to survive. Good luck and Godspeed with your new venture Mr. Arrington. I wish you all the best.