IN OPINION OF: Patrick O’Heffernan
The United States is currently home to more than 7,000 non-daily newspapers with more than 150 million readers. There are no similar statistics of weekly local newspapers in Mexico, but Wikipedia lists 55 regional newspapers, 24 of which publish weekly. The actual total is probably much higher because the Wiki list does not include the many hyperlocal weeklies that exist in almost every town and pueblo in the country. But regardless of the correct number, Mexico is blessed with a robust infrastructure of local papers.
Here in Lakeside, the majority Spanish-speaking population relies on the Semanario Laguna and its website, Twitter feed and Instagram sites for breaking news, plus its innovative Ventas Publicidad Laguna WhatsApp site for local business news. For English-speakers, there is the English-language section of Semanario Laguna, plus hyperlocal online news websites in English, Facebook groups, and the Lakeside edition of the English-language Guadalajara Reporter.
Some people dismiss the hyperlocal news organizations and outlets. They prefer to get their news from Facebook, TV, regional weeklies, national or state dailies, or “big news” websites like NewYorkTimes.com, LATimes.com, Guardian.com, etc. But local weeklies are the muscle and sinew of journalism in any country for two big reasons.
First, local papers provide you with information about what is going on in your neighborhood, your town, your school, sometimes your block. Where else are you going to find out who won the local high school soccer game, whether or not the town’s escaramuza charra team is going to the finals, or why the street across from your house is being torn up? Who else is going to interview Miss Ajijic and Miss Chapala and their courts? Who else is going to cover the local citizens’ rally to stop illegal development and then go and photograph the illegal development?
Local news outlets, whether daily or weekly or online, provide the information people want and need for their daily lives. You cannot get everything you need from Facebook, or local editions of metro papers, or national websites. You need news organizations with people on the ground, in your community who know where the bodies are buried (or try to find out), who know the local government, who know the local businesses and nonprofits, and know what you need to know in your community and its relationships to the state and the nation and yes, even the world.
Which brings me to the second reason local news organizations are so important to journalism; they are not only its muscle and sinew, they are its womb.
The Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of NYU publishes a long list of journalists who began at a local weekly or small TV station and went on to win Pulitzer Prizes, lead national networks, serve as executive editors of major newspapers, or become best-selling authors.
Consider Christine Amanpour, Chief International Anchor for CNN; she started on a small radio station in Rhode Island. Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer for the New York Times Homer Bigart started as a copy boy at his hometown newspaper. Ben Bradlee, the Executive editor of the Washington Post whose character we all saw in the film The Pentagon Papers, started his career as a cub reporter at the New Hampshire Sunday News, a start-up Sunday paper in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Or consider Lakeside homeowner Teya Ryan who started in a small, hyperlocal public TV station in Los Angeles, where she cut her teeth producing community stories and eventually rose to Executive Vice President and General Manager of CNN, leading the world’s largest news organization.
Even here at Semanario Laguna we are losing one of our reporters to Mexico City where he will get a Masters Degree and work for one of the nation’s largest magazines. A former writer for Laguna is now one of the top sports writers in the country. And we are proud that they started with us — a hyperlocal news organization that runs photos of local school graduating classes and pictures of crocodiles in our lake alongside investigations of government misfires and private takeovers of public property.
We know many, if not most, of you who are reading this right now also get news from Facebook, or the Guadalajara Reporter, or news alerts from national papers in the US and Mexico. Great – you should. I do. A variety of sources gives you a much better understanding of the world. But we thank you for reading the Semanario Laguna because, not only does that mean that you are well-informed locally, but you are part of what keeps independent journalism in Mexico strong.
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD, is a volunteer cub reporter for Semanario Laguna. He is a former correspondent and magazine editor in Asia, a Professor of Mass Media and International Relations at Georgia Tech, and an Emmy-winning TV producer for the UN. He started his career as a summer intern with the Los Gatos Times -Saratoga Observer, a hyperlocal weekly newspaper in Los Gatos California