After losing two newspapers to market forces that don’t value local journalism, Kingsbury County is trying to establish a new weekly newspaper running on volunteer writers and good wishes.
“At first there was a feeling of loss, of something missing that we had to some degree taken for granted,” said Tim Aughenbaugh, a De Smet business owner who is on the board of the local development corporation. “The more we began to think about it, we realized what an important role a newspaper plays in a community.”
…Aughenbaugh concluded that the only way to make the equation work was to eliminate or drastically reduce employee costs. That meant relying almost exclusively on unpaid volunteers from the community to write articles, take photos, design the website and the paper, and get the printed copies distributed around the county [Bart Pfankuch, “S.D. Communities Rally to Launch Weekly Newspaper with Volunteer Labor,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.05.11].
We want value, but we don’t want to pay people to produce that value. There’s the South Dakota economic development mindset at work.
Showing more stereotypical economic development corporation thinking, Aughenbaugh is bringing in a design firm to get the new Kingsbury Journal started:
Aughenbaugh said the group has enlisted the help of a design firm that will not only help create the finished product but also provide training to volunteers, including in the basic principles of community journalism.
Aughenbaugh said at this early stage, he is not too worried about maintaining objectivity or running into problems regarding conflicts of interest or libel, though those topics will be addressed in volunteer training [Pfankuch, 2020.05.11].
Economic development corporations producing news generally aren’t worried about objectivity. A newspaper managed by an economic developer will likely offer nothing but glowing coverage of giant hog CAFOs run by their kin.
Every community should have a news outlet. Every community that can manage it should have multiple news outlets so residents can hear and analyze multiple viewpoints. And every community should have at least one news outlet that isn’t controlled by business or political interests.