5 Big Ideas for Next Big Idea Club nomination

The Next Big Idea Club has selected Death of the Daily News for its short list of nonfiction books coming out in September. Their curators—Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink—ultimately will select two titles and ask the authors to share five big ideas from their book.

Here are my five big ideas:

  1. Local news creates social capital. Newspapers not only inform people but also bring them together in ways that create and reinforce community. When local news disappears, connections among residents start to break.
  2. Citizens already are doing journalism. We refer to places without traditional news outlets as “news deserts,” but that’s not accurate. News still happens. It’s just that journalists are not there to make sense of it. Instead, in many places, individuals look around, ask questions and report out what they discover. They just don’t do a great job of it.
  3. Journalists should help citizens do better. Professional reporters often dismiss working with the public as too messy and time-consuming. As newsrooms cut back, journalists should help citizens identify accurate information and partner with them to cover more perspectives.
  4. Tweets matter. We act like social media messages are ephemeral and just disappear. They actually make up our shared community conversations. Individuals should embrace the Peter Parker principle: With great power, comes great responsibility. Use social media wisely.
  5. Facebook could revolutionize local news. Thousands of people volunteer their time as Facebook group administrators, trying to make sense of local news and sharing their findings. The social media platform should train these people to do a better job. It would help communities – and it makes financial sense.

Death of the Daily News comes out in September, with pre-sales taking place online now.

Great early review!

Booklist, the American Library Association’s monthly magazine, has given Death of the Daily News a great review. This is particularly good news because librarians typically use this magazine as a guide for what they buy to lend. Publishes September 2022. Pre-sales available now

“Conte exposes the weaknesses of both traditional top-down journalism and the ‘citizen gatekeepers’ who have since filled the breach, while arguing that the answer resides in the public truly understanding the value of knowing about their community, and then leaning hard into the media still available to them, including Facebook groups, blogs, local gatherings, libraries, even flyers. A lifeline for communities who have lost, or are in danger of losing, their local papers.”

The full Booklist review by Alan Moores is here.

Have and have-nots of local news

Communities with at least a little bit of wealth have local news, while those struggling economically also tend to be news deserts. That’s the perhaps-not-entirely-shocking finding of a recent report about news deserts from Northwestern University. Under the traditional news model, journalism depends on advertising for revenue – and advertising depends on local businesses.

I recently wrote about how two communities near Pittsburgh have the same name – Sewickley Borough, an upscale suburban community, and Sewickley Township, a poorer rural community – but vastly different types of local reporting…

“What worries me the most is that we have a growing divide in the U.S. around journalism that mirrors the divide we have politically, culturally, economically and even digitally,” Penny Abernathy, the lead study’s researcher, says. “The loss of news creates a crisis for not only our democracy but for society and community cohesion.”

In communities like Sewickley Township, the crisis in local news means that residents are losing touch and that political leaders face little accountability. People who attend public meetings often get frustrated and lost because they do not understand what’s going on. The government posts its meeting agendas and notes, but no one reports out the nuances or background information.

At the same time, people who are ill-informed share their opinions on social media — but often get the facts wrong.

Read the full column here.

This summer, I came across The New Canaan Advertiser in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, once described by CNBC as “the most affluent county in one of the most affluent states.” Owned by Hearst since 2018, the weekly newspaper features stories about a local chef selling gourmet ice cream, a lighting bug sanctuary, legislative candidates debating gun safety and more.

How can this one little newspaper afford to provide so much coverage? Check out the ad at the bottom of the front page…

A newspaper that serves readers who might afford to purchase a $34.9M teardown in Palm Beach probably has enough of an economic base to support local journalism. The challenge remains how to bring back local reporting in all the communities whose readers cannot.