WGHP: Researchers look at what happens in communities where local news disappears

by: Michael Hennessey

Recent cuts among the local news field across the country are prompting industry professionals to consider a concerning proposition; what happens if local news disappears altogether?

“So, humans are human,” says Phoebe Zerwick, director of Wake Forest University’s Journalism Program. “One of the things that’s kind of embedded in our DNA is this desire to tell stories and know what’s going on and to find out what happens.”

Before taking over the program at WFU, Zerwick worked at the Winston-Salem Journal, which was founded as an afternoon newspaper on April 3, 1897. During her time at the paper, she says it had five bureaus, including in the North Carolina mountains and state capitol.

“The reason I came to the Winston-Salem Journal from New York City as a young journalist was because North Carolina had a tradition of excellence in newspaper and excellence in journalism,” Zerwick adds. “The journal won a Pulitzer Prize in the early 70s for its environmental reporting.”

The paper also had reporters assigned to every news beat imaginable.

“Really important stories that could only be done about North Carolina, by journalists living and working in North Carolina,” Zerwick details. “That’s the point. So, when you lose local news the community in the state loses that watchdog function that journalism provides.”