How do you tell the story of a slow disaster happening in front of everyone’s eyes and still make the world sit up and take notice?
For reporters Dave Bauder and David Lieb, the answer was by focusing on the residents of one small town as they explained the death of local journalism in an authentic, vivid and compelling way.
For Waynesville, Missouri, the loss of its newspaper has meant there’s no one covering church picnics and youth sports triumphs, no outlet for the sheriff whose son died of a heroin overdose to refute whispers around town and rumors on Twitter. Bank workers can no longer scour the obituaries to prevent deceitful relatives from attempting to drain the accounts of the deceased, and as one prosecutor plainly put it, the only news the community hears about his office is positive.
It’s a story that’s happened repeatedly across the country, with 1,400 cities or towns losing newspapers in the last 15 years. The aftermath of the loss of the Daily Guide was richly told by a multiformat team of text, video and photo journalists as the centerpiece story for the AP’s Sunshine Week package on the decline of local news. Called “Fading Light,” the package succinctly captured the shroud of local news deprivation many communities face.
AP Media writer Bauder and Lieb, a member of the state government team based in Missouri’s capitol, spent several days in the Ozark hills community of Waynesville and its twin city, St. Robert, speaking to community members, former journalists and elected officials about the Daily Guide’s demise. They interviewed the one man trying to keep the towns informed, a former Guide reporter whose delivery method for news is Facebook. Denver video journalist Peter Banda and Kansas City photographer Orlin Wagner worked closely with them to shoot visuals, including of the shuttered Daily Guide offices and of residents describing what the loss of a local news outlet has meant for them. Alina Hartounian, the multiformat coordinator for the U.S. beat teams, used the materials to create social videos that drove readers to the story.
Lieb’s knowledge of Missouri’s newspaper landscape helped identify the community as a likely reporting target, and a daylong scouting trip laid the groundwork for the visit by the all-format reporting team. Lieb and Bauder set up a roundtable discussion with residents at the local library, where residents candidly discussed why they missed the paper, and in some instances the reasons they stopped supporting it. They worked together with Banda and Wagner so the stories worked across formats. Lieb’s analysis of statistics on the demise of local news outlets helped give the story a broader feel, as did reporting on the stark economics facing newspapers. Bauder also secured an interview with executives at the company that shuttered the Daily Guide.
The story received incredible attention and sparked discussion online. Bauder and Lieb’s text story has been viewed nearly 120,000 times with an average engagement time of nearly a minute and 20 seconds. Hartounian’s social videos have been viewed more than 109,000 times. It has landed on nearly 30 front pages so far, and has been cited in several influential newsletters, including Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources,” the Columbia Journalism Review and two mentions by Politico.
For masterful work shining a light on a problem that has left whole communities less informed, Bauder, Lieb, Banda, Wagner and Hartounian win AP’s Best of the Week award.