This week, Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a column that struck home with me.
Mr. Galloway opined that Donald Trump’s tirades against the national media may have an effect on media closer to home. In fact, I feel it already.
“Local news coverage, not the stuff flowing out of D.C. or New York, is about to become the true journalistic victim of Trump’s administration policy,” Galloway wrote. “We’re talking small-town reporting, the low-to-the-ground type that keeps an eye on city councils and county commissioners, sheriffs and mayors. Specifically, the newspapers and TV stations that operate in rural America – which is, by and large, Trump territory.”
You’ve probably heard about the Sinclair Broadcast Group, with 173 local TV stations with intentions to grow 42 stations larger, making it the nation’s largest broadcaster, which has been under criticism for requiring all its stations to read a script decrying the “fake news” seen elsewhere.
A draft study by Emory University found that a 25 percent increase in national political coverage at Sinclair stations came “largely at the expense of coverage of local politics.”
“But thank goodness, we’ve got local newspapers to fill the gap, right?” asked Galloway. “And there’s the catch.”
President Trump last month announced worldwide tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, and has increased tariffs on Canadian newsprint.
The tariffs will hit hardest already struggling, small community newspapers — like this one — that keep the closest watch on local governments. Newsprint was already scarce. Now, it will be scarce and expensive.
My friend Robert Williams, editor of The Blackshear Times for the last 47 years, told Galloway, “Our costs are rising, our revenue is getting hard to find,” Williams said.
Another of my friends Scott Buffington, publisher of the Jackson Herald in Jefferson, and his brother, yet another of my friends, Mike Huffington, operate five small weeklies in northeast Georgia.
Buffington was delighted when a truck rolled in bringing a load of Canadian newsprint. “We’re supposed to have a truckload come in every three weeks. Yesterday was the first load we’ve had since February,” he said.
Buffington showed me the emailed note he received from the CEO of the cooperative that supplies him with newsprint. “A warning to all,” it began. “The tightness in the newsprint market is real. In the past few weeks several members have been dangerously close to running out of paper.” The crisis is likely to come in June.
Some smaller papers, particularly in middle and south Georgia — where the retail base is already shrinking — may go under as a result of the tariffs, Buffington said.
“What’s going to happen then? Google and Facebook aren’t going to cover the Braselton city council,” he said. “I don’t know how people are going to get their information if something that dramatic happens.”
Galloway closed by saying, “In other words, in many parts of Trump’s America, it may be time to stop obsessing over ‘fake news’ and focus on something that’s much worse: No news.”