media update's Talisa Jansen van Rensburg takes a look at the importance of local news and why people need to protect these newsrooms at all costs.

While most people rely on big news outlets and tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, to get their news, these operations only offer an outline of the 'big' stories. Beacuse of this, people may know what is going on in places on the other side of the world, but they may not know what is going on in their own area.

Now is the time for people to start realising that high-quality local news is extremely beneficial and important for communities too. 

Here, we look at three reasons why this is:

1. Local news keeps democracy alive

When consumers start relying on big news agencies such as News24 and IOL, they become less inclined to find out what is happening right there in their own neighbourhood. ‘Big news’ that is taking place on a global scale diminishes the interest that the public has in the smaller-scale news feeds. The result of this is that readers becomes totally disconnected from their home surroundings.

For example, you may read something in News24 about a political party doing a great job on a national scale, which is all good and well to know. But, back in your suburb, it might be another political party that is actually doing the good work that directly impacts you — thus highlighting the importance of local news media.

That is why local news keeps democracy alive. It informs residents and communities in specific areas about the reality of current issues that they are facing and will be more directly impacted by. Without local news, it is easier for communities to simply accept what big news outlets have to say about the current state of the country to be true. This results in readers being well read on the 'bigger picture' of things, but lacking context and content regarding matters that will likely have a bigger impact in their own respective lives.

Democracy reigns when South Africans are given a holistic view of current affairs, ranging from local to global. Knowing the truth about the state of the country can’t be fully gained without the consideration of how the reader themselves are being impacted at home.

2. Local news ensures that companies behave

If local journalists weren't around to report on the news in each suburb, you would eventually see a rise of unethical conduct in local companies and organisations. With no one around to check up on you, it is so much more tempting to bend the rules. And, as humans are, all it takes is one person to start the domino effect. This means that, without local reporting, ethical standards and practices will be less and less adhered to, impacting not just employees but whole communities at large.

For example, your local store down the road could claim to be environmentally friendly, when in reality they really are not. No one is around to check, so no one can say otherwise.

Chuck Plunkett, former page editor of The Denver Post, says that 'local journalists are like watchdogs — they keep a close eye on everything that happens around and within a specific local region.' 

Local news journalists are like hawks that follow up on claims that companies make in each specific region — and it’s no secret that, just like many other countries, South Africa has its share of corruption. This is why these journalists are so important to the country — to hold the power and keep everyone in line, as well as to ensure common decency is being upheld by citizens.

3. Local news reflect back to the community

Another important aspect of local journalism is the fact that each journalist in their local region reports back on the community to readers, showing them exactly what it is they are able find and see in these areas. This practice allows the reader to fully comprehend and be aware of things happening that they are directly part of or impacted by.

For example, if there is constant crime taking place at specific points, but no one talks about it or does anything, nothing will be done to ensure the safety of civilians or the lawful actions against the crimes. However, if a local journalist points this out and makes others aware of that specific issue, it empowers readers to then take a stand against that specific issue.

This not only gives readers the chance to avoid potential threats or to call on authorities for help but also creates public awareness, which will potentially lead to a decrease in crime in those areas. 

Local journalism also shows residents what is at the heart of the community, reporting on what is truly taking place and whether it is beneficial to the community or an issue. Big news outlets, such as the Sunday Times, can’t possibly show each local area exactly what is going on in their regions. And while we need these publishers, we need our local media houses just the same.

So, if you still have a local newspaper such as a Roodepoort Record or Cape Times, be sure to invest in them, support them and let them know that they are invaluable to the community.

Why else do you think local news is vital for South Africans? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Are you aware of some other big issues within the media industry? If not, then be sure to read The problem with the media industry in 2020 to better equip yourself with some much-needed knowledge.
*Image courtesy of Canva