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From the Editor: Gazette closure highlights need for informed citizens

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Posted on: June 12, 2015
BY REBECCA BENNETT —
BY REBECCA BENNETT —

Updated July 13 at 9:36 a.m.  As we went to press, the National Newspaper Association announced the winners of its 2014 Better Newspaper Contest. We are pleased to report that the Hyattsville Life & Times placed third for Best Local News Coverage, among all publications with a circulation greater than 6,000. Evaluating the March and September issues, judges called our product “excellent,”​ describing it as “thorough coverage of a niche community with special attention to details.”​

So you could say that we believe strongly in the importance of community journalism. Here in the City of Hyattsville, we are fortunate to have multiple publications that inform residents. But last month, we lost one of the best.

The June 12 announcement that the weekly Gazettes in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties were to close was a sad day for the community. If you have one laying around, hold onto it tightly, because both operations ceased publication on June 18.

In many areas of Prince George’s County, the Gazette was the only local newspaper. Regional media does not usually devote resources to reporting on what most affects our daily lives.

This year, the Gazette has reported on many stories from our neighborhood, such as Hyattsville’s city election and the election of Hyattsville’s first African American mayor. It reported on the police department’s pending move to the BB&T building and local schools participating in Science Bowl finals.

The Hyattsville beat reporter, Jamie Anfenson-Comeau, is one of nearly 70 staff members who will be let go in this process. Anfenson-Comeau, a City of Hyattsville resident and father, was notably seen at every Hyattsville City Council meeting scribbling notes about the proceedings. Anfenson-Comeau’s next job will be for the Maryland Independent in Charles County.

In this hyperconnected world, it is very difficult to keep up with the news media, let alone keep up with newsgathering. There are dozens of places to look for information and dozens more questions to ask. Just being informed in the City of Hyattsville requires reporters and editors at the Hyattsville Life & Times to chase down threads of business development, criminal cases and legislation on the city, county, state and federal levels. For the average citizen, remaining informed about our city would require attending or watching meetings or events four to six days on some weeks. When is the average citizen supposed to live if the effort to keep informed about the neighborhood takes this kind of commitment without local news media helping out?

I could insert here a rant about how media is changing or how “Post Community Media should have…”  But, it’s complicated. We all know the media landscape is changing. We know media companies have to make difficult decisions. With the advent of the web and free content, it is more and more difficult for papers to generate the ad revenue needed to pay staff.

Now that the Gazette is shuttering its doors, the question is less “why” and more “what.” What are we as citizens going to do about it? More than 10 years ago, a group of Hyattsville residents came together to launch a local newspaper: The Hyattsville LIfe & Times.

The non-profit Hyattsville Community Newspaper, Inc, which oversees the Hyattsville Life & Times, met for its quarterly board meeting on June 18. The board, including our editors, discussed some difficult questions. The end of the Gazette means an end, or at least a temporary dearth, in local news coverage in the greater Hyattsville area. Right now, the Hyattsville Life & Times focuses on stories within the city limits.

What does this mean for Hyattsville? What does this mean for the Hyattsville Life & Times? What does this mean for other municipalities near us? How do we take this bad news and make the most of it for the citizens of Hyattsville given our current scope and resources?

The Gazette closure is not only difficult for journalists, but for the communities those publications served.

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