May 14, 2021 | OPINION | By Katherine Moynihan | Photo by Iris Guo
Two days into Block 7, I switched into Corey Hutchins’ class Topics in Journalism: The Future and Sustainability of Local News. This class was different than any I have been in before because it was project based.
The assignment was this: each student chose a county in Colorado and interviewed community stakeholders in that county about their local news ecosystem. I chose Montezuma County in the southwest region of Colorado. Having been there before, I could picture the mesa, blue skies and rural layout. My personal connection made me all the more eager to talk to the people who ran the county and learn more about news dissemination.
The first task was connecting with community stakeholders in our county. My classmates and I, supervised by Hutchins, turned to Google to find the names and emails of viable contacts. This process taught me a key lesson in journalism, but also life: if you want people to talk, you need to be persistent. I sent dozens and dozens of emails to potential contacts in addition to loads of follow-up emails. Luckily, people replied, and I set up interviews.
The first Friday of the block, I was eager to sit down and eat dinner to start the weekend. I was in the middle of unwrapping my plastic silverware when I received a call from an unknown number. To my surprise, the chairman of the Mountain Ute Tribe, an Indigenous community in the southwest, had responded to my interview request.
We had an extensive conversation about news dissemination in his community. When I asked him what his community’s most pressing need was regarding news and information, he responded that access to broadband internet fiber is a major obstacle for residents. When people do not have access to internet and TV, they turn to Facebook — connected by cell service — for their news. Facebook is more divisive and includes negative content.
The term broadband internet came up often in my interviews. One stakeholder enthusiastically brought up Starlink — Elon Musk’s idea of a single internet provider — to satiate local news needs. Unfortunately, Montezuma County is economically depressed. Residents suffer from poverty and unaffordable housing. Older people move to Montezuma to retire, yet there is a lack of job opportunities for younger people and working families. Rural residents especially lack high-speed internet access.
In all my interviews — of which there were 11 total — I asked the community stakeholders if accountability journalism exists in Montezuma County. Accountability journalism is when journalism and news personnel keep powerful people in the community in check for their actions and policies. Some stakeholders mentioned that municipal activity is accessible on the internet via YouTube, since in-person meetings are barred from public viewing due to the ongoing pandemic. However, for residents that do not have high-speed internet, these online meetings are unavailable.
On a more positive note, there are multiple reliable news organizations that serve the Montezuma population: The Cortez Journal, Four Corners Free Press, and KSJD News. I was lucky enough to get in touch with the editor of the Four Corners Free Press and ask her about her thoughts on the journalism scene in Montezuma. She responded that the problem isn’t so much that residents don’t have news to read, it is that they do not care enough to seek it.
I also spoke to three members of the KSJD News team, a local radio station in Montezuma. They explained that there are reliable journalism sources, but the quality could use some improvement with more robust newsrooms. People in Montezuma are hungry for investigative and informative stories.
Throughout the course of the block, as my classmates and I pursued our respective interviews, Hutchins introduced guest speakers who worked in news dissemination to come speak to our class. One speaker, Brian Malone, was a filmmaker who produced the documentary “News Matters: Inside the Rebellion to Save America’s Newspapers.”
Faced with a group of young journalism students, Malone asked my classmates and I about our relationships with local news: do we read it? Do we care about local news ourselves? It got me thinking: here I am, questioning local government officials and reporters about their news consumption and production, yet I have never seriously engaged with local news myself. Most of my information comes from word of mouth and the news sites I subscribe to, like Substack or The New York Times.
My question for the CC student body is this: do you support, consume and care about your local news? Whether that includes your hometown or Colorado Springs, evaluating news consumption patterns is a valuable reflection process. As filmmaker Malone pointed out, young people, like CC students, are the future of reporting. Some say there is no question if reporting and journalism is safe because there is no replacement for the press. However, with the rise of Big Tech and algorithms, the future of local news is at stake.