We Should Pay More Attention to Local Journalists, and Less to National Media Outlets

Protest organizer Kristen Kelsch hold a sign and chants across the street from the State Capitol in Bismarck on Thursday. A line of police prevented Kelsch and others from hold the protest to the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Capitol grounds Bismarck Tribune Photo

Conservative columnist Eric Erickson makes an insightful point in this piece where he argues, using the Georgia gubernatorial race as a starting point, that local journalists are better at getting stories right than national journalists.

I work for a local media company, which employs a lot of local journalists, so maybe I’m just biased in that direction. But his argument makes a lot of sense:


“The national reporters wanted to build narrative arches with protagonists and villains instead of just giving people the facts,” Erickson writes. “As local news outlets rely more and more on national reporters or fade away, more stories like these will be reported and even more people will distrust the press.”

We here in North Dakota can look to a couple of recent, local examples of what Erickson is talking about.

The most recent is the controversy over North Dakota’s voter ID laws, which I wrote about earlier today and yesterday. While we all benefit from a robust debate over voting policy, honest observers must admit that the controversy over voter ID in our state was born of political expediency. Incumbent Senator Heidi Heitkamp needed an issue to help her come apathy for her candidacy in tribal communities, and a fairy tale about racist Republicans out to suppress the Native American vote fit the ticket.

Heitkamp’s left wing allies, no doubt paying her back for her vote against appointing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, descended on the state and fed their preferred narrative to national media reporters who, as Erickson writes, were looking for villains and protagonists.

The other example is the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which saw political extremists terrorize south central North Dakota for weeks on end. They blocked public public highways and railways. The instigated violent conflict with law enforcement. They attacked pipeline security workers, set construction equipment on fire, and flagrantly trespassed on state, federal, and private property.

But they were also successful in feeding their spin on these events to the national press. Those of us on the ground here in North Dakota, seeing with our own eyes and learning from local media reports, saw the truth. Nationally the public got another message. One which had the evil oil industry, backed by fascist and militarized cops, beat peaceful protesters into submission.

Because, again, all the national reporters seem to care about are villains and protagonists.

Rarely is reality that simple.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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