If you’re over 40, chances are you grew up assuming a newspaper would always land on your doorstep. After all, the Post-Gazette’s long-ago forerunner, the Pittsburgh Gazette, started publishing in 1786. (The text of the U.S. Constitution made the front page a year later.) Then came the internet.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, newsroom employment dropped by 57 percent between 2004 and 2020. Locally, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review went to an all-digital format in 2016. The P-G only offers print editions on Tuesdays and Sundays. It’s inevitable that some less clickable, non-viral news (a township meeting, a library event) doesn’t get covered. But those stories are essential to daily civic life.
That’s one of the challenges examined in Andrew Conte’s new book, Death of the Daily News: How Citizen Gatekeepers Can Save Local Journalism. In it, Conte, a former Mt. Lebanon resident and director of Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, looks at the demise of the McKeesport Daily News which ceased publication in 2015, after 119 years—and what comes next.
“People throughout McKeesport … felt an unexpected or deep sense of loss,” Conte wrote, “realizing only afterward that they saw themselves and their place in the community” through the Daily News.
As with so much else in our 21st century lives, the internet offers both exacerbation and a solution.
“We’ve gone through the first major stage” of adapting to online life, Conte believes. Unfiltered and unsubstantiated rumors, sometimes couched as “news,” proliferate. Anyone can report anything. But being an actual reporter—evaluating sources, checking facts, and taking responsibility for what’s posted—takes practice, and that’s one of the projects of the Center for Media Innovation.
“It’s basic training,” Conte said. “We’re working on models for that right now—teaching people how to read an agenda for a public meeting,” for example.
With an eye to educating and deputizing citizen gatekeepers, Point Park and local residents are collaborating on the McKeesport Community Newsroom. Directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and Mt. Lebanon Magazine contributor Martha Rial, the newsroom runs a free drop-in writers’ group, as well as photography workshops in conjunction with the Carnegie Library of McKeesport.
Currently, the newsroom’s online blog and galleries feature first-person essays about life in the Mon Valley, as well as photos and stories on local events like McKeesport’s annual International Village. There’s also a podcast, Voices from the Valley.
Previously, The Center for Media Innovation has worked with Gazette 2.0 in McKees Rocks, which has transitioned to an all-digital format, and The Mon Valley Independent, which offers print and online editions. Conte said the center will continue to reach out and train volunteers to cover hyperlocal news and events in other communities.
Citizen journalists might also be found among the long-suffering ranks of Facebook group admins, who are experienced at bringing coherence to online chaos, Conte noted: “We see that those people already exist.
“People love where they come from,” Conte observed. “They’re frustrated now because the information they’re seeing is inaccurate and biased. I think people are saying they don’t accept that anymore.”