When I was an intern in the Illinois State Capitol pressroom in 1989, none of us carried cell phones and we got most of our local news from the morning newspaper. Today, our news comes fast and furious, bursting from text alerts moments after it happens. While we can be more informed than ever, there are far fewer professionals and organizations delivering that news than there were when I started in this business.
The financial model of local news organizations has been upended. But the need and demand for local news remains as strong as ever.
This is a challenge I grapple with as head of the Baltimore Sun Media brand, which publishes the flagship Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette in Annapolis and more than a dozen other smaller web sites, newspapers and magazines. The people who work for us care deeply about what they do and the Baltimore region has supported us consistently with a steady growth of paid digital subscriptions during the past nine years, which provided a new source of revenue to our news-gathering operations.
Our staff was fortunate to earn the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting earlier this month, achieving journalism's highest honor. Baltimore Sun reporters last March began investigating a scandal that involved the then-Baltimore mayor and the fraudulent book deals she had secured with a public hospital system where she sat on the board of directors. Within two months, the mayor resigned in disgrace as did the hospital system CEO and other executives there. Also, the General Assembly passed sweeping legislation reforming the hospital system's board of directors. Such corruption would not have been exposed if it were not for the subscribers and advertisers who support The Sun's core mission of accountability journalism.
I have received appreciative notes from readers, many correctly pointing out that if an independent press did not dig into these questions, the mayor and the hospital system still would be operating the way they had in the past. But I worry that stories like these remain uncovered in cities and towns across the country as we lose more journalists to a difficult economic environment. There are fewer news organizations now than when I was a student at the University of Illinois Springfield's well-regarded Public Affairs Reporting master's program.
Studies show that without watchdog reporting, government goes unchecked, leading to problems with spending, accountability or questionable ethics. The best public officials welcome scrutiny because transparency makes them and their governments better.
We need local news more than ever. If you haven't done so already, please subscribe to your local newspaper, website, regional public radio station or other news sources with professional journalists covering those zoning and school boards. Without a working press in the trenches, the corruption we uncovered in Baltimore could thrive in your town as well. Don't let local news disappear. There's too much at stake.
Trif Alatzas is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Baltimore Sun Media, a 1989 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting program and a member of the Bill Miller PAR Hall of Fame. He led The Baltimore Sun team that was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting "for illuminating, impactful" investigations into city and state government. Under his leadership, Baltimore Sun Media newsrooms have earned Pulitzer Prizes in each of the past two years and have been Pulitzer Prize finalists six times since 2015.
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