By Katherine Heerbrandt
In my last year as a reporter at The Frederick News-Post in 2004, about 14 full-time reporters crowded into its second-floor newsroom on East Patrick Street. Today, roughly six or so reporters are responsible for covering the entire county.
The weekly Frederick County edition of The Gazette, part of the Post Community Media LLC owned by The Washington Post Co., closed in May 2013 with only four reporters, less than half the number it had when I returned for my second gig there in 2010.
The loss of The Gazette and the downsizing of The FNP has left a gaping hole in local news coverage, mirroring the decline of local newspapers around the country.
When I left The FNP in 2004, newsroom employment and print advertising were still riding high at 1990’s levels, according to the recent publication, The Expanding News Desert, from the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, (The Loss of Local News: What It Means For Communities.) In the past 15 years, the number of journalists working at newspapers has been cut in half.
As ad revenue and circulation numbers diminished at alarming rates, reporters were asked to do more for less money. As newsrooms thin out, priorities change, and as a result, any real investigative reporting is given short shrift.
Part of being a good citizen means staying educated and informed on the state of the world you live in. We still have plenty of options for keeping tabs on national and international news.
But for news of the latest school board policy debate, tax rates, deep dives into county or city budget proposals, infrastructure changes, or the latest new housing development approved by the planning commission, you have fewer options.
Who else provides that essential check and balance that keeps voters informed, officials accountable, democracy thriving and a community bonded if not a local news source? And although we are all glued to the national headlines of late, it is the actions of local governments that influence our daily lives more immediately and most significantly.
From October 2016 to February 2018, I published an online news site, The Frederick Extra. The time and effort necessary to produce in-depth stories, build a readership, and finance the endeavor proved too much for me.
Two years later and I cannot escape the nagging guilt about all the stories that go untold, particularly at a time when Frederick County continues to grow and change at a frenetic pace. As the delivery models for local news evolve, my hope is that this latest effort by the new publishers of The Tentacle will fill some of those gaps in news coverage and tell the local stories we might miss otherwise.
As long as The Tentacle keeps a firm firewall between its straight news coverage and opinion pieces, it can build an audience that goes beyond partisanship. I encourage you to put your biases aside and support your local news outlets. Read, give feedback, buy ads, send news tips and story ideas, and write letters to the editor. Be engaged and be informed.
Katherine Heerbrandt has been reporting and opining on Frederick County for various news outlets for over 30 years.