With more than 200,000 residents and a couple million tourists each year, Beaufort and Jasper counties are no longer the sleepy paradise of years past.
But with growth comes issues: Development in both counties; the Hilton Head bridge replacement; Hardeeville’s rapid growth; school crowding and quality; business development; traffic; workforce housing; beach preservation; and others.
What’s more, local and county governments sometimes appear to make decisions behind closed doors, sometimes giving short shrift to residents’ views.
To understand the issues and to push for progress, residents need a common source of credible information. Yet throughout the Lowcountry that information can be fragmented, conflicting, incomplete, dated, or just plain wrong.
Nationally, cities and towns suffer from a lack of credible and comprehensive local news coverage that can educate and unite people, empower them to successfully address challenges and take full advantage of all that their communities have to offer.
There are less than half as many journalists working in American newsrooms today as there were in 2008. Typically, local newsrooms are managed from afar as small cogs in big corporate operations. Fewer resources mean fewer stories covered and less time for reporters to produce in-depth and investigative reports.
Don’t blame local journalists. They do their best but are victims of changing economics, digital competition and audience fragmentation that results in people gravitating to narrow sources that support their personal views, often without facts.
Meanwhile, hearsay and rumor masquerade as facts on social media and are repeated until people believe them more than they believe real journalism.
The result: Misinformed and under-informed residents are ill-equipped to participate in government and community initiatives. And there’s less information about community events and passions. Rather than pulling together, people drift apart. That’s why a timely, broad and objective local news source is important for all communities.
Good local news organizations can unite audiences with a common understanding of issues and opportunities and help readers make their voices heard. They can force officials to do the people’s business in public and in that way restore trust in government and other institutions.
They can help businesses connect with customers and drive the local economy. They can show residents how to make the most of what their towns offer. Information leads to participation and participation leads to progress.
Good local news coverage can drive communities forward and enhance the quality of life.
Can the decline in local news coverage be reversed? Across America a new and promising economic model is gaining a foothold.
There are more than 1,100 nonprofit local news organizations across the country.
Founded and run by residents rather than by the national companies that own legacy newsrooms, they are fueled by professional journalists who live in the communities they serve.
Residents support them through donations, grants and other means.
They are beholden to their neighbors, not to Wall Street. And they produce journalism of consequence — timely, objective and relevant.
They understand the promise and limits of life in their communities, from bridge projects to housing. They care about their towns.
As communities band together to support their own news source, they can fill the news and information gap so common across America.
Mark Silverman is a retired newspaper editor and Gannett corporate executive. To give feedback or get involved, contact him at Mark@lowcountrydaily.org. LowcountryDaily.org is a local nonprofit foundation committed to preserving the integrity of local journalism.