The latest hit to small-town journalism came in an unexpected form: local cops raiding the office of the Marion County Record and the home of its co-owners last Friday. Personal cell phones were …
The latest hit to small-town journalism came in an unexpected form: local cops raiding the office of the Marion County Record and the home of its co-owners last Friday. Personal cell phones were grabbed, one right out of a reporter’s hand. Computers, servers and equipment used to put out the paper were seized as staffers were forced to leave the newspaper office.
That was followed by the death of one of those owners, 98-year-old Joan Meyer, who collapsed at the home she shares with her son—the co-owner, editor and publisher—the day following the raid. She was “stressed beyond her limits,” the paper reported.
Marion vice mayor Ruth Herbel’s home was raided at the same time, the paper added.
The raid was preceded, according to the Record, by restaurateur Kari Newell’s accusation at a city council meeting that the paper illegally acquired information about Newell’s drunken driving, and supplied it to Herbel. (The information was provided by a source, the paper said.)
Coincidentally, the paper was also investigating the police chief.
According to an interview by reporter Marisa Kabas with Record co-owner Eric Meyer, published on Kabas’ Substack newsletter “The Handbasket,” the paper has seen an increase in subscribers across the nation. Donations have been offered. Equipment has been obtained and the Record will publish.
The catastrophe—the silencing of that particular Kansas paper—has been averted.
The Record also intends to press on with legal action, to ensure that those involved and anyone else who might think it a good idea to intimidate the press through police raids reconsider fast.
But what does this mean for other small papers?
Small-town journalism is more intimate than the big-city kind. People know you. They know where you live. Everyone’s connected, and sometimes those connections go back generations. That can add depth to a story, or it can add murk. Complications.
Then there’s the legal aspect. Details are still emerging; did the search warrant process violate state and federal laws?
Can it happen elsewhere? In rural America, where relationships between law enforcement and the judiciary can be intimate as well, is there any recourse now?
The loss of local journalism makes this more poignant. Some of that is financial: ad sales are down, local businesses are struggling themselves.
Some of that is a battle for public perception.
If the powers that be don’t like a story, it’s easier to attack the paper. Take away its ad revenue. Shift readers to social media with its own targeted news feeds. Let everyone stay in their bubbles.
When clear-thinking, informed citizens are the enemy, then you have to shut down local papers.
With our hectic schedules, it’s often easier and faster to read a few headlines from a national paper while scrolling through social media.
Does local reporting even matter?
Ask the people who are protesting large projects proposed near their homes or that they feel threaten the environment.
Ask the families of residents at the Adult Care Center in Sullivan County or those who are victims of elder abuse in Pike County.
Ask the Marion County Record.
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