January is our homecoming month every year. This week we discuss the importance of local media in building a vibrant and transformative community.

Do not confuse local media with national media; they are different in their mission and scope. Local media can be vital in transforming and energizing a community.

He was recently asked, “What happens when a community loses its local newspaper? A follow-up question was also asked: “How would this community get their news then?”

As you might expect, responses ranged from things like radio, social media, word of mouth, friends, neighbors, to responses like other regional outlets and so on – all of which are accurate to some degree but, regardless, it was agreed that the community would suffer from a lack of accurate information.

Yes, communities would still determine when businesses closed. Violent crime tends to cover social media and word of mouth. Not-so-pleasant news and information tends to spread through social media, radio, friends, neighbors, etc. And yes, they would get regional coverage for all the high profile crimes and business closings. They might even be unlucky and have a major news outlet like the NY Times or the Washington Post rushing to town to report on another dying rural American town.

But who is always going to be the voice of the community to share community wellness stories, business openings, and convey the great things happening locally to the outside world?

In addition to a local media company sharing big events in your community, let’s take the reality a step further. When potential new businesses are looking to relocate to a community, they tend to first Google all potential communities or locations. Without a voice sharing the big things happening, what will they see besides business closings, crime stories and obituaries? And, yes, this NY Times article will appear at the top of their search.

Without this voice conveying the good things, they are left with only the impressions of the less desirable things. What conclusions do you think they will draw? While I wish this was just a “what if” situation, sadly nearly two thousand communities across the country are experiencing this scenario today.

Local newspapers can be the eyes in the soul of your community. They should be the community’s ambassadors to the outside world. If the local newspaper cannot convey your community’s positive message to the outside world, then who will be able to convey that message consistently and accurately? If your local newspaper doesn’t, demand that it does.

Newspapers should be the proverbial place of community communication. In today’s world of fragmented media and information sources, fulfilling this role is more critical than ever. Local communities need all the help they can get. Having a local media presence fulfilling the above roles is essential to the overall success and vitality of the community.

A recent Notre Dame study indicated that a community that loses its newspaper could expect the cost of local government to increase by 30% within five years. This doesn’t mean the government is bad, but without media scrutiny it tends to spend more than it otherwise could. Regardless of the political leanings of the local newspaper, this simple act of surveillance saves a community hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Another recent poll shows that most residents think their local newspaper is doing well financially. While many newspapers are doing well, it’s safe to say that most local media are facing difficult and potentially crippling economic headwinds. It is important to note that communities often face many of these same economic challenges. The media company and the community must work together, finding synergies that can be created to shape a strong community base from which to build. For the two to succeed, they need each other more than ever.

When a community loses its journal, part of that community dies. In addition to less civic engagement, these communities may lose their identity. A quote from Portland State’s Lee Shaker was recently shared with me. He said in a Nieman Lab report: “If a community loses its journal, it ceases to be its own place. It becomes a satellite of something else, rather than having its own core identity.”

A community without a newspaper becomes a rudderless ship adrift in the treacherous economic currents of life.

— John A. Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is the author of “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” a weekly column appearing in many communities. He is the founder of Truly-Local LLC and is dedicated to helping communities build excitement, energy and combine synergies with their local media to become more vibrant and competitive. His email is [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.