Friday, July 13, 2012

What will save the news?

     For weeks, this newspaper has been reporting the legal ruckus over the Blaine County School District’s $18 million construction contract gone wrong.

     It’s also been covering internal politics in the city of Sun Valley that went off the rails and resulted in settlements by its insurance company of two claims filed by employees for wrongful treatment under Idaho law. Its former city administrator has also said she will sue—again—over the termination of her job.

     If the news stories hadn’t been researched and confirmed by reporters employed by an independent news company, only a handful of local people would have found out what was going on.

     Oh, someone with an axe to grind might have Tweeted tiny bits of unverified information or posted tantalizing threads on Facebook. But facts and well-researched stories? Those take work by paid reporters.

     In 2010, residents of Bell, Calif., found out what can happen to a city with no watchdog newspaper. They belatedly discovered that the city’s chief administrative officer was paid $800,000 a year, its police chief $457,000, assistant city manager $376,288 and part-time council members $100,000.

     No matter the city or state, Americans need to care how news is done and how to keep reporters employed and independent. The Internet has convinced people that news is “free” and at the same time drained massive revenues, making it difficult for news operations everywhere to survive. That matters because without independent news operations, news won’t get done, the public won’t be informed and democracy could drown in a flood of empty bits, bytes and megapixels.

     Americans must find a way out of this pickle or find out too late that the price of a free Internet could be very dear indeed.

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