From the Editor: There's no news desert here
By HEATHER WRIGHT — In this edition, you’ll see an article by Alfred Lawson, a 96-year-old pharmacist, expressing his gratitude to Hyattsville for the success of his business, Lawson’s Pharmacy, which he sold to Richard Sabatelli in 1986. In a cover letter to the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T), Lawson wrote that he noticed Sabatelli was still advertising in the paper, providing Lawson a monthly reminder of his connection to Hyattsville’s history.
Lawson’s gratitude to one of our advertisers and to the Hyattsville community reminded me of my ongoing thankfulness for this city and the chance I’ve been given to help chronicle its history. The decline in U.S. newspaper circulation, both print or online, has been well-documented. The Pew Research Center, for example, noted a decline of about 10 percent in U.S. daily newspaper circulation from 2016 to 2017 alone. University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers found a net loss of 1,500 local daily and weekly newspapers in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016.
UNC researchers also continue to document the spread of “news deserts,” areas that no longer have local “credible and comprehensive” newspapers, as well as the rise of “media barons,” big investment firms that own more and more local newspapers, but are less invested in communities and their readers than in courting and keeping advertisers. Whether local news outlets are publishing online or in print, researchers argue, matters less than whether or not residents can reliably get news about city council meetings, school and library construction projects, local elections and so on.
What’s the problem with becoming a news desert? Research indicates that, without useful current news, civic engagement typically drops. For example, from 2008 to 2009 following the closures of the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, civic engagement declined in Denver and Seattle, respectively. Similar declines were not seen in other major U.S. cities that retained their newspapers. If you don’t have consistent access to news about your city — upcoming events, local government, proposed development, and your fellow residents — you are likely to feel less invested. If you’re less invested, you’re less likely to participate in civic opportunities and responsibilities, including voting.
Because of readers’ engagement, advertisers’ investment and a mainly volunteer force of reporters, the HL&T continues. And with the availability of other local news sources, like The Sentinel and The Hyattsville Wire, and with a national publication, The Washington Post, touching on our local news from time to time, Hyattsville is not currently in danger of becoming a news desert.
In this edition, alone, you’ll read about the library reconstruction, learn why some residents want to change the name of Magruder Park, meet a man who escaped political upheaval in Venezuela and brought his home country’s cuisine to Hyattsville, and learn about some unsolved thefts at gas stations. By immersing yourself in the life and times of Hyattsville, you can strengthen your ties to the community and help determine its direction.
So thank you for reading. Thank you for responding to articles, for sending in letters to the editor, for submitting news leads and suggesting topics you think we should cover. And a thank you to our advertisers, as well. Without your financial support, we could not tell the ongoing story of Hyattsville, its residents, its businesses, its politics. And, finally, thank you to Mr. Lawson, for reminding me of how good it is to be here and to be engaged in this community. And of how it’s possible to keep working and doing what you love until 96 and, hopefully, beyond.