Vast and growing areas of America are now ‘news deserts’: areas that have no local news outlets. The Community News Project aims to demonstrate that public libraries can help to fill the void in local information, government accountability and fact verification that exist in news deserts. In creating this project, the Coronado Public Library has worked with leading national and local journalists from the San Diego area, as well as the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. This site is intended as a realistic template that other libraries can adapt to meet the needs of their own communities. In addition to arming citizens with facts and watchdog information that does not editorialize, the project aims to teach ordinary citizens how to be good news consumers and how to be citizen journalists, reporting the news themselves to their friends, neighbors and social networks.
Each of the topic area pages has short instructional videos for the public that were custom created for this project. Our contributors include:
NPR’s Chief Economics Correspondent, Scott Horsley.
Time Magazine reporter, Jasmine Aguilera.
Deputy Managing Editor of inewsource, Jamie Self.
Past national President of the Society of Professional Journalists and current Editorial and Opinion Director at the San Diego Union Tribune, Matt Hall.
The watchdog reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, Jeff McDonald, who writes about local government and institutional misconduct.
Public safety editor at the San Diego Union Tribune, Dana Littlefield,.
THE COMMUNITY NEWS PROJECT at Coronado Public Library aims to demonstrate how small-town libraries can help address a growing crisis in local news coverage, acting within their scope as information providers.
Local news outlets have been dying out throughout the United States, creating ‘news deserts’: communities that do not have the localized news coverage that is critical to local democracy. Unable to compete with the internet for advertising revenue, over 2,000 local news sources went out of business in the last 15 years, representing a quarter of all newspapers, according to various studies.
In June 2020, the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that 1,800 communities around America no longer have any original reporting either digitally or in print. The report also claims there are now less than half the number of working journalists in America compared with 2004.
Meanwhile, there are over 9,000 public libraries, with one in almost every medium sized town. The Community News Project at Coronado Public Library was created to demonstrate the role libraries can play in watering America’s news deserts. Television and radio outlets don’t adequately address issues at the local level. Who is on the scene every day, providing essential information? Your local library.
Local news sources are essential to democracy as they empower citizens to hold local government and business accountable. In addition to making government transparent, they play an important role in chronicling local history and providing a sense of community.
Many libraries already do a great job fostering community and some archive local history, including a community’s historic newspapers. However, what accountability can a library provide when it is also part of local government? What freedom to report can a library reasonably expect to have when it is under the supervision of city management and the watchful eye of public information officers whose job is to protect the organization’s image?
The Community News Project at Coronado Public Library interviewed city public information officers, reporters, news editors, representatives of journalist unions and media educators to arrive at its conclusions regarding what a library can and cannot do. Also partnering on the project was Martin Kruming an Instructor at the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University and several journalism student interns whose names can be found on the contributors page. The result is a series of informational pages that are free from editorializing, political stances or ‘hard’ news, along with guides that empower the ordinary citizen to become news producers themselves and better news consumers.
A Watchdog page digs much deeper than an ordinary directory for local government and business and explains the processes for challenging these bodies with specific local examples. A Fact or Fiction page tackles rumors and hearsay that appear on social media in news deserts in the same way those questions would be answered at a reference desk. A Citizen Journalism page gives ordinary members of the public some of the same skills and ethical grounding that working journalists learn. The intention is to teach the public the way to be responsible and accurate reporters themselves through their social and other networks. A Media Literacy page was produced with assistance from the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University and helps citizens to discern the truth of reports they are reading on social media or hearing on the street.
The other pages on the site offer examples of soft, community building news, such as a wrap up of local entertainment and some soft features and interviews that librarians or volunteers could produce without running foul of their own city employers. Other areas found ‘safe’ for a library to report that have not been included here were sports writing, obituaries and listing upcoming school board and governmental meetings including their agendas.
There have been some localized efforts to tackle news deserts through one-off non-profit projects but as yet there are no solutions on a national scale. The Community News Project at Coronado Public Library attempts to offer an alternative example to other libraries and municipalities to help meet the critical information needs of their communities. In particular, the hope is that the standard of local information can be raised in news deserts by harnessing the historic role of libraries to dig deeper into information, to organize and present that information in a usable way and to educate people to fend for themselves through literacy programs, in this case media literacy.