Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Need For More and Better Journalism

When I wake up wondering what to blog about, I go to a few places for ideas. One is my Facebook "Norristown" pages--that is, the pages for our Municipality, the Business Association, the CTC and Violence Prevention Initiative, the Preservation Society, Men of Excellence, Dragon Boat Club, The Norristown Project, Norristown Nudge, the Norristown Library, our theatres, plus those for local restaurants and coffee shops. Today there were a few notices for upcoming events, but nothing that inspired a Diary entry.

Two other places that have been decent sources in the past: the websites for The Times Herald and Norristown Patch.

The problem with Patch is, all of the Patch outlets in this part of Pennsylvania (and maybe all over the nation) fired their local reporters at the beginning of the year. Despite the sub-heading of "Local News" on their website, and their name "NORRISTOWN Patch," you won't find one bit of Norristown news. The lead "local" story today is from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. On Facebook, the Norristown Patch feed is now all "trending" stories--meaning stories picked solely by Internet popularity. They're from all over the US, few are from reliable news outlets, and the content is what you'll find in your basic supermarket checkout line tabloid. Less than a year ago, Norristown Patch was a great source for news of what was happening NOW in Norristown, from police reports to fires to gunshots heard, and also a good source for event news. Now, nothing. So I've scratched Patch off my list of sources and UNLIKED them on Facebook.

Today in the Times Herald, the only genuine Norristown news article was Carl Rotenburg's recap of last night's council meeting.  He mostly concentrated on the new Fraternal Order of Police contract, but also added a summary of the new zoning ordinance at the bottom (though, if you were specifically looking for the zoning info, you probably didn't find it, because the article's headline only mentioned the contract).

Other than that article, though, other local news came from surrounding communities. Clicking on "Sports-High School" or "Obituaries" now takes you to other websites.

When I was growing up, the Times Herald showed up on our porch every evening--a good-sized newspaper stuffed with mostly Norristown news--not just crime and borough council news, but items on what was happening in the school district, what our churches, scout troops and civic organizations were doing (though, they did tend to ignore the doings of minority groups).

While working on my 4th book, I went to the Historical Society to research what Norristown was like in the 1930s, I flipped through microfilms of even bigger newspapers--2 editions a day, with comprehensive national, state and local news. Before that, Norristown had 2 papers--The Times and The Herald--which eventually merged. The photo at left is of a 1942 Times Herald, still proudly boasting the name of our town in its masthead. Compare how much news is on the front page to the photo above.

I can't blame the Times Herald for paring down their content--the Internet is putting most newspapers out of business, so I'm grateful we still have a local newspaper, and that they still cover things like council meetings, and haven't gone the way of Patch where we have no local reporters at all.

Yet, in every free society, journalism is incredibly important. We need unbiased observers who'll seek out the most reliable sources for news, and not get their information from blogs and social media as so many news outlets are doing these days. We need to be kept informed if our community is going to improve and grow.

I don't know the answer for Norristown--maybe a citizens' news website? Student or volunteer reporters? What ideas does anyone else have?


  1. The Norristown Project and OIC are working on a youth program in the summer. I will send you all the details once we're ready to release it. But it's coming!

  2. Elana,
    Thank you for this thought provoking post. Perception is an incredible thing. The Times Herald has always covered so much more than Norristown, which is why the name was eventually removed from the flag (logo). A closer examination of the 1942 paper you posted above shows Lansdale and Sellersville stories, along with what appears to be a couple of nation/world stories. I actually don't see a Norristown story on the page. We haven't pared down our content. We've actually increased our content and our audience. The print product is smaller than before, but online we're growing every day, and including more local this blog. The Times Herald broke the story about the proposed razing of Montgomery Hospital, which sparked the petition you link to at the top of your blog. The Times Herald also broke the 'Breakfastgate' story that resulted in a change in the state's Sunshine Law, with fines being increased from $100 per incident to $1,000 per violation. Norristown has a variety of organizations and groups that often have the same objective. Imagine what could happen if they pooled their resources for the common good. I'll suggest that Norristown is also home to 13th oldest newspaper in the country, and already has 'a citizens' news website.' Rather than re-creating wheel, why don't we pool our resources and make this the information source for all of Norristown and the surrounding areas? Because as you said, in a free society, journalism is incredibly important.

    1. Just a quick correction. The petition resulted because I was at the zoning meeting where Cingular announced that they'd been told to remove their antenna from the hospital roof before demolition. I emailed the Preservation Society that night and wrote the petition myself before the TH article came out. So the Times Herald had nothing to do with the Hospital petition.

  3. The print version of the Times Herald has really been nothing more than a few columns worth of front-page headlines and maybe a decent commentary article or two about the current state of affairs in the "Editorial" section. Quite frankly, I'm surprised at the complete lack of content I manage to find in this and sister publications like the Pottstown Mercury and "North Penn Distorter". They may as well be practically just released as a broadsheet--there's not really much there most of the time anyway, right?

    I still am bemused at the nickname my middle school teacher at Eisenhower gave this local paper--"The Times HORRIBLE"!