Forums can rekindle interest in local news, help community appreciate your work

Al Cross

Sep 1, 2022

If there is an issue in the community that needs sorting out, have a forum to discuss it.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which I run, is increasingly focused on the sustainability of rural journalism, primarily newspapers. We’re involved in the critically important discussions about the need to diversify revenue sources and get more from readers. But there are increasingly fewer readers, so how do we recruit more, and get back those we have lost?

We have to meet them where they are, in the social-media space, and give them journalism that is good enough to earn their financial support. But we must also rekindle their interest in local news.

Social media and increasingly partisan, entertainment-oriented national news have reduced citizens’ attention to local news, and made it more difficult for them to tell opinion from fact. How do we restore people’s interest in local news and boost their appreciation of journalism?

One way to do that is through community forums, in person or online.

If there is an issue in the community that needs sorting out, have a forum to discuss it. If there’s an election, host a forum for candidates and voters. In either case, you perform a public service and generate good news and editorial content for your paper.

If you feel a need to re-connect with your readers and potential readers – and you should – have a forum that reminds them of the value of local journalism that holds local officials and institutions accountable, and gives citizens the information they need to fully participate in local democracy.

Such a forum provides an opportunity for you to clearly define your newspaper’s value to the community, and to clear up misconceptions about the media. At any such opportunity, I explain the difference in news media and social media this way:

News media pay for journalism, which practices a discipline of verification. We tell you how we know something, and it’s mainly about facts, not opinion. Social media have no discipline and no verification, and are mainly about opinions, not facts. To which kind of media should you pay more attention? Think about it.

I’ll discuss how to talk about such issues, and how to hold community forums, in flash sessions at the NNAF Annual Convention in San Francisco on Friday, Oct. 7.

I plan to borrow liberally from the “Be The Community Forum” work of Tom Silvestri of The Relevance Project of the Newspaper Association Managers, and will draw on my own experience as a community newspaper editor and manager, political reporter and columnist, journalism professor and forum convener. But you have your own experiences and ideas that can help others, so please join us and share them so we can re-engage with readers and remind them of the value of community newspapers.

Al Cross edited and managed rural newspapers before covering politics for the Louisville Courier Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky and director of its Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog at