Belt Mag: A call to action!

Belt Magazine editor Ed Simon reached out to readers this week with a pep talk that has its roots in Death of the Daily News. He cited the book as presenting an example of how we all need to pitch in to support local news – for ourselves but also for our communities.

“This is, it must be said, an uphill battle – it requires dutiful support from citizen-readers who have a passion to make sure that nuance wins out over the simplification, the factual over the fanciful, democracy over authoritarianism.”

Check out Belt Magazine if you haven’t. And check out the book.

Pittsburgh Quarterly review

“An award-winning journalist and director of Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, the author makes convincing arguments for how to fill the societal void as community newspapers continue their downward spiral.”

Great review in Pittsburgh Quarterly by Fred Shaw. Read the whole thing here…

“What can’t be denied is that Death of the Daily News is an important volume that proves that the journalistic proverb, ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,’ remains shorthand for the role news gathering should play in all its evolving forms.”

Historic Setting: Penn-McKee Hotel

McKeesport’s Penn McKee Hotel, left, when it opened in 1926 (via the Post-Gazette), and now with graffiti, broken windows and chainlink fencing (by author).

Death of the Daily News opens with an historic moment in the nation’s history involving a public debate between two future presidents:

Two first-term members of Congress, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, boarded the Capitol Limited train at Washington’s Union Station on the Monday morning of April 21, 1947, headed to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, the economic and spiritual center of the Monongahela River Valley and home to 100,000 unionized industrial workers. As the two newest members of the House Labor and Education Committee, the lawmakers were scheduled to appear that night at the Penn-McKee Hotel before more than 100 people at an event sponsored by the local Junto Forum, a business-minded civic group.

Like much of the Mon Valley, the Penn-McKee Hotel has seen more glamorous days. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently ran a story highlighting what has been lost in McKeesport, block by block. The closure of The Daily News takes place against this backdrop of a community in crisis.

Many news deserts exist in places that suffer a variety of economic losses. A study by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism points out one more growing divide across America: Places that are relatively well-off tend to have robust local news while those that are struggling often also lack original journalistic reporting. Lead researcher Penny Abernathy put it like this:

“The people most likely to live without news are those in communities that need it the most, those that are economically struggling communities, those communities that have been traditionally underserved. We’ve had a collapse of the for-profit, business models that sustain local news organizations in those communities for a number of years.”

Community leaders in McKeesport have been trying to decide what to do with the Penn-McKee: Tear it down to remove the eyesore – or attempt to salvage what’s left? For now, the building remains standing, albeit with broken windows and graffiti. A historic market memorializing the day of the debate sits behind a chainlink fence.

Media Deserts Grant

I’m pleased to announce that I have won my first academic grant as part of my new life as a PhD student in Community Engagement. Point Park University awarded a Social Impact Grant for fellow student Keino Fitzpatrick and me to explore the role of media deserts in McKeesport, Pa. The city has a rich history of media coverage but it has not had a newspaper since the Daily News closed two years ago. We already have started some small work. This will allow us to continue and expand. We have been fortunate also to work with freelance journalist Jennifer Jordan, Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Martha Rial and the CMI’s grad assistant Ashley Murray.

Students from McKeesport visited the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University in December 2017.