1. What was your experience like when you first started working at the Globe nearly 40 years ago? Humbling and inspiring. I arrived at The Joplin Globe in 1984, right out of college, and was immediately surrounded by passionate people with a deep commitment to reporting on Joplin and area communities, to open government and to open records. They helped me understand the importance of a strong, independent newspaper to the overall health of the communities it serves. Study after study has since shown just how communities suffer when their papers close.
The other thing that surprised me was the length of time many on the staff had been at the Globe. Some were coming up on their fourth decade and even the half-century mark when I started. Many of these people had dedicated their lives to the community through their work at the Globe. I recognized right away that his was an honorable, rewarding calling.
2. Tell me more about these studies and what we are learning today about communities that lose their paper? More than 2,000 papers have closed in the last 20 years, so we’re getting a pretty good picture of what happens to communities that lose their paper.
A report in the Journal of Communication found that as local newspapers decline, communities become increasingly partisan. Johanna Dunaway, professor of communication at Texas A&M University, said of her study: “Replacing local media with national alternatives and the resulting increase in political polarization has broad implications for everyone. If the information we get about politics is reduced to national party politics, the local issues that affect us most will be neglected by voters and politicians alike.”
She also said: “Residents of cities without sources of local news are losing their ability to hold their political representatives accountable in ways that encourage ethical and effective representation. and the more obvious implications of newspaper closures are that residents are becoming less informed about the issues that affect them most and less engaged with local government.”
Another study, reported in the journal Urban Affairs, found a correlation between staffing levels at newspapers and the number of candidates who run for mayor.
The authors concluded: “When local government officials are subjected to regular public scrutiny by newspapers, citizens are better able to hold them accountable, leading to emergence of challenger candidates, more competitive local elections and a more engaged citizenry that turns out to vote.”
A third study, this one in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, found that as newspapers report on emissions of toxic chemicals by companies, those emissions decline. They wrote: “When newspapers cover the emissions of consumer goods producers, these reduce their emissions by 29% with respect to those plants that were not covered.”
The implication is clear: Communities without newspapers are dirtier and less healthy.
Then there is the Brookings Institution study that found that communities without a newspaper are not as financially healthy.
The study, “Financing dies in darkness: The impact of newspaper closures on public finance,” concluded: “When local newspapers aren’t there to hold governments accountable, we see costs increase due to a lack of scrutiny over local deals. ... With the loss of local news coverage also comes higher long-term borrowing costs for cities — more so than in neighboring counties. Costs for bonds increase from 5 to 11 basis points, and these results are not due to underlying economic conditions.”
I also think that because newspapers help keep citizens informed about local issues, that helps them make better, more responsible financial decisions.
Healthy, thriving communities need healthy, thriving newspapers.
3. When did you first realize you wanted to become editor of the Globe? I didn’t have any deep aspiration to become editor. I had worked alongside Carol Stark, the editor, for more than a decade. She and I were close in age, and I always thought I’d continue in the role as managing editor under her. She loved this job, and I could never picture her retiring. But Carol had battled cancer off and on for more than a decade, and it was only after the cancer returned for the final time and we learned how sick she was that I started to think about the changes that were coming. She was another with a deep commitment to the paper, as evidenced by the way she continued to work during her illness.
4. In what ways has the Globe changed throughout your journalism career? The biggest change has been technological — the arrival of the internet. It forced us be more competitive, getting information about breaking news on our website and out on social media as quickly as possible. It forced us to do a better job, because now millions of people can read our stories, but it also enabled us to the job better, because we have a lot more information at our fingertips.
However ... the internet also has become a font of unreliable information, and that makes the job of independent, fact-based news organizations, like the Globe, even more critical, not less so, in this era when we are overwhelmed with information.
In some ways, though, the job has not changed, whether typing a story into my iPhone or pounding out the keys on an old Royal typewriter, which I first learned to type on. The goal is still to collect the facts, talk to all those involved and get their perspectives, and then to write a compelling, accurate and fair account. Our tools have changed, not our mission.
5. If you had to share a piece of wisdom that you’ve learned from your time at the Globe, what would it be? Two things.
There are always many ways of seeing an issue and even an event. It’s important to let all sides have a voice in a story, to let all sides offer their perspective. I have yet to meet the person — and I have now been doing this job for nearly four decades myself — who has a monopoly on the truth.
I also recognize that communities depend on their newspapers as much as newspapers depend on their communities. and a community newspaper reminds us that we are all neighbors, and that we all — regardless of our our national political divisions — have common cause, whether that’s strengthening the local economy, making sure we have great safe schools, or protecting and improving our local environment.