American media has long been distinctly local – but essential newspapers are facing a particular struggle as readers’ attention shifts to the national media.
Kathleen McLaughlin explores the problems that local media face in America with a story of her experience in the industry.
Twenty-four years ago, in the summer after my third year of college, I took a barely paid internship at the local newspaper in Missoula, Montana. I agreed to spend a few hours a week working at the paper in exchange for a couple hundred dollars over three months.
To pay my bills, I worked at a trendy downtown restaurant, topped up with a couple of shifts a week in a clothing store at the mall. In my second week at the paper, the local government reporter went on vacation and the editor asked me to cover the city council meetings while he was away. That reporter walked off the job and didn’t come back, at least while I was there. I jumped into his shoes with delight, still serving food downtown five days a week to pay my rent and bills.
Somehow, I didn’t see a big problem until the morning I interviewed the mayor and city manager about new building projects, then served them lunch a couple of hours later. I was amused; they seemed embarrassed. I realized I had stepped into something strange and exploitative, but I was having too much fun to care.