Decline of Local News Media Jeopardizes Communities

In recent years, the ubiquity of print news media has been waning. According to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center, the combined circulation of print and digital newspapers has been declining relatively steadily since the mid-1990s. An Associated Press article from July of last year noted that newspapers were closing their doors at a rate of around two per week. The same article noted that while 75,000 journalists worked at newspapers in 2006, that number had since fallen to 31,000. 

A few years ago, the Oberlin News-Tribune, the City of Oberlin’s local newspaper, was bought out and ceased exclusive coverage of the City, leaving the Review to serve as the City’s paper of record. While the Review has continued to make efforts to serve the community effectively, there are unique challenges to being a student-run newspaper. For one, because we are full-time students, we only have the capacity to produce one issue worth of content each week. Given that, as a college paper, we largely cover College-related events, we are limited in the amount of community news we are able to feature. Beyond this, our publication schedule is dependent on the College’s academic calendar, and we publish only on weeks when regular classes are in session. This academic year, the Review has a total of 23 publication weeks. This means, for more than half the year, the City of Oberlin operates without a dedicated community publication. For long stretches of time, including the entirety of the summer, there is no paper operating in Oberlin. While the Review does have a precedent for ad hoc reporting outside of the regular print calendar, it is exceedingly uncommon.

Beyond the logistical limitations of our print schedule and scope, it is also important to recognize that, as a student paper, our staff stay at the Review for no more than four years, often less. Because we spend such a brief period of our lives in this town, we often lack the perspective on town issues that longer-term residents might possess. We rely heavily on people who have far more knowledge than we do and are willing to lend their expertise and perspective. While many newspapers employ veteran reporters who have strong relationships with community stakeholders, it is difficult to build those relationships in the short time that we have. It is also difficult to maintain and continue these relationships given the high levels of staff turnover. The relationship with the community must be with the Review itself rather than with our reporters as individuals. 

The Chronicle Telegram is able to fill some of the gaps in coverage, but its coverage of a larger geographic area means that it may not have as close of a relationship with members of the community as a paper based in Oberlin would. Its space and resources, like ours, are limited, and it is tasked with covering far more than our one town.

In some ways, the shift toward broader news sources is a good thing. The development of online versions of major newspapers like The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post gives anyone with an internet connection the ability to read and analyze news from thousands of miles away. The ability to learn about conflicts facing international communities separate from our own breeds a type of understanding that isn’t possible with an exclusively local understanding of politics and social interactions. 

However, reporting on issues facing the international or even national community should not come at the cost of local news. Coverage of local events is important for community building, especially in college towns where town and gown politics can create friction and conflict, particularly when there is inadequate information available about the reality of those conflicts.

The Review recognizes our responsibility as a publication that connects and provides a platform for productive discussion between these two parties. The town community and the college community work toward a common goal of creating a flourishing and lively Oberlin where people want to live and work. We recognize the critical need to continue to foster these relationships, and we would like to make an open call to Oberlin community members and students to not only use the Review to enhance your own understanding of your community but also as a platform to inform other community members about issues important to you.