Local news outlets remain an integral part of small American societies. But when the news stories become too sensitive, reporters have to leave out some information out of respect for the community.
In Grand Marais, a tiny community of 1,400 inhabitants in north Minnesota, local news media are doing quite well, despite competition from statewide news outlets.
Local news outlets have a strong position in the United States. In fact, Americans hold local news in higher regard than national news, according to a poll from Gallup and the Knight foundation, with a panel of 4,000 people.
Two journalists in Grand Marais say they feel like an integral part of the community.
“When you buy groceries, you might meet someone you just did a story on, or someone who wants to share their story with you,” says Joe Friedrichs, a reporter at nonprofit WTIP Community Radio with 10,000 listeners. “You always end up talking to someone, so you have to add on 15 minutes in the store.”
Publisher Brian Larsen, Cook County News Herald, a commercial newspaper with a circulation of 4,000 paper copies per week, agreed: “I’ve never had to worry about not having enough material for the next issue. We are now running 16 pages. But I could easily fill 20 or 24 pages, if I only could afford the printing.”
The newspaper’s online subscriptions are going up. Likewise, WTIP reports its membership has doubled over the past three years to over 800 households that pay a fee.
Just a few days before the WPI fellows visited Grand Marais, a violent murder shook the idyllic resort town. A 78-year old man, accused of stalking children, was beaten to death by a man in his 20s, using a shovel and a large moose antler. Both men lived in the community most of their lives.
WTIP was the first medium to publish the victim’s name along with some of the gruesome details. Being fast was important to stop false rumors from spreading.
“I’ve already heard from listeners that are upset that I even mentioned the violence of the crime,“ says Joe Friedrichs. “Why did you have that on air? My children were listening to your radio show and got frightened, they say.”
Both journalists are aware of the emotional implications when local media report on violent crimes. They believe basic facts should be included in the reporting, but information that could hurt the small community should be left out.
“I’ve known the perpetrator since he was a kid and I’m not putting all of that into my paper,” Brian Larsen says. “I know his family and they don’t need to be bludgeoned more than they already are. I also know the family of the victim, and they are good people, too. I will leave them out of this story.”
Portrait photo above of Joe Friedrichs at WTIP Community Radio in Grand Marais. (Photo: Alexander Uggla)