A former editor explains why community journalism matters

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SANFORD, NC — The decline of local journalism continues. A new report by Northwestern University indicates that nearly two newspapers in the United States close each week. In North Carolina, the Mount Olive Grandstand closed its doors last month after 118 years in business.

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Mount Olive Tribune closes after serving the community for 118 years

Northwestern University says nearly two newspapers in the US close every week

John Cate, longtime journalist and former editor of the Tribune, says community journalism matters in an ever-changing media landscape

John Cate has dedicated his life to community journalism for nearly 30 years. He was once editor of the Mount Olive Tribune, a legacy newspaper that survived two global pandemics, at least 14 wars and 21 presidents. He says the news about it is very difficult.

“I was sorry this happened,” Cate said. “It’s very difficult when you dedicate so many years of your life to something and you feel like you’ve done a good job of maintaining it, and it doesn’t after you leave.”

Katewho is now a sports editor for the Sanford Herald, ran the Tribune for seven years, from 2008 to 2015. When he wasn’t in command of the ship, he was on the ground as a reporter covering sports and current affairs .

“When I was there, I mean, even back then, it was a tough market for journalism, but we did what we could with the resources we had,” Cate said. “I worked really hard every day or so trying to keep this diary alive.”

It’s the challenge of keeping newspapers afloat in an evolving news landscape.

“The Mount Olive Tribune is not the first newspaper I have chaired that went out of business years after I left,” Cate said. “It makes me very sad to know that.”

With the demise of the Tribune, the community was left without a Mount Olive-based newspaper.

“You can find out what’s going on in DC, or you can find out what’s going on in Raleigh, but you can’t really know too well what’s going on on the main street in your city unless you have someone who does.” Cate said. “And that’s the role we tried to fill.”

Spectrum News spoke with Erica Beshears Perel, the director of Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC, for a statewide look at local news trends, especially in rural North Carolina.

Perel, a former reporter for The Charlotte Observer, says there are three counties in the state that don’t have a local media outlet. According to the center, a news desert is defined by a county with one or more newspapers. She says democracy depends on local news.

“There is a connection between high-quality local news and civic participation by people who vote, people who attend government meetings, people who protest, people you know, who participate in some way in their own government , hold their leaders accountable and are empowered to do so,” she said.

She believes that aside from local newspapers, powerhouse TV and radio stations, there are digital startups to help people get their local news.

“There are some great new outlets filling in the gaps,” Perel said. “And to fill in the gaps that traditional media hasn’t always covered well.” We have outlets like Enlace Latino NC which is a Spanish language outlet that covers politics in our state.

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