Zaleski: What happens in Washington is local news
Some media cognoscente believe a local newspaper should keep it local when it comes to news, commentary and analysis. They argue that readers are interested primarily in local and regional news. Therefore, the reasoning goes, national news is second fiddle stuff to them. I disagree.
Diminishment of content and commentary about news from the White House and Congress erodes newspaper credibility. The effects of the drama the national stage are, by definition, local news. It's offensive to assume readers' interest in current events ends at the city line or state border. My experience in this business tells me they are more sophisticated than that.
Pick a topic: taxes, agriculture, energy, immigration, the president. When the president signs an executive order or when Congress passes legislation, repercussions are local. For example:
Tax reform. It affects every individual, family and business in Fargo-Moorhead, some for good, some for ill. Ask payroll preparers, tax advisers, wage earners, business owners, homeowners and state officials. All of them are scrambling to accommodate new tax schedules for 2018. They are focused on how changes will weigh on bottom lines. It doesn't get more local than that.
Farm bill preliminaries. Farm legislation is not among our New York City/Florida golf club president's strong suits. Other than a perfunctory appearance at the Farm Bureau's national meeting ("I love farmers, I really do"), he's not demonstrated an informed interest in agriculture. Nonetheless, he will influence a new farm bill. The bill's provisions—price supports, crop insurance, food stamps, export enhancements, water rules, chemical regulation, rural development—will have immense local import in farm country. In North Dakota and Minnesota, that's every city, town and township. That's every operation from the mega-farms of the Red River Valley to the ranches of the Badlands. It's local.
Immigration. Is there a more local story than the saga of new Americans who have settled in Fargo? The fallout from Washington's immigration machinations will manifest itself here at home. That will be true whether the president's unfortunate proclivities prevail or Congress summons up its better angels. Local and regional newspapers have devoted untold resources to stories of immigrants and refugees. Those stories are not insulated from the wider debate about "dreamers" and border walls. The national issue is local. Local media are obligated to report and comment.
The president. When he speaks, we listen. His tweets, vulgarities and policies are news—local news because he is the topic of conversation in every cafe, church coffee hour, business meeting and family gathering. He is president. What he says and the way he says it matter to all of us; and require local reporting, commentary and interpretation by resident journalists.
National news is local news. One cannot be divorced from the other—cannot be separated or quarantined. All of it is integrated and enmeshed. Good journalism makes sense of it. Local journalists report the local angles of national news in a context that must include analysis and opinion. Anything less abdicates the press's responsibility, and cheats readers.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 241-5521.