Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In Defense of the Headlight

The Deming Headlight has been around since the 19th century, is currently owned by the MediaNews Group, and is the only newspaper in town.  The rest of the letter is self-explanatory, I think, and I've included some hyperlinks.

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13 November 2013

Sylvia Ulloa, Managing Editor
Las Cruces Sun News
256 West Las Cruces Avenue
Las Cruces, NM 88004

Dear Ms. Ulloa,

Congratulations on your new position as managing editor of the Sun News. It is my understanding that you will also be responsible for our Deming paper, the Headlight, and it is about our local paper that I am writing to you today.

The Headlight has no competition, and we depend on our single paper (or its website, though I still prefer newsprint) for our local news. Bill Armendariz, the editor, is well known and loved in our community as a hard-working and sincere man. It seems to me that Billy is doing the best possible job with limited resources.

When I arrived in Deming in 2008, there were a couple of local reporters employed by the paper, writing about local events. One died, one took another job, and since then there are a couple of bylines that turn up occasionally. I don’t know if they are full-time or stringing or what. But what I see very frequently is “For the Headlight.” The school district writes stories about itself, the state police writes stories about itself, and I’ve done it myself in order to boost performing arts events. I have seen editions of the paper where most of the articles have been “for the Headlight.” I have seen pages that consisted entirely of advertising, paid and unpaid.

There is no investigative reporting being done locally, and very little reporting on the activities of local government, government agencies operating in Deming, and matters of interest to our community such as economic matters.

As you know, our city made international news last week with a disturbing story about police activity and an expensive lawsuit. The Headlight has depended on the Las Cruces Sun News for what little coverage it has offered to Deming readers. A remarkable aspect of this story has been the lack of any official response – and this lack of response is, in part, attributable to a lack of local journalism. Last night, I attended a meeting of the Deming City Council – the first since these allegations were revealed, and the first opportunity for the public to comment or ask questions of the city pertaining to this matter. There was not a single reporter present from any media organization. Today’s story, front page and above the fold, was about a local CPA winning an award.

I should disclose that I am a volunteer columnist for the Headlight. Once a month, I submit a 600 word piece for Billy to run on the editorial page. There are a few of us who do this, because we very much want to see local writing, and some debate on local issues. I’ve also sent in photographs, and I’ve been tempted to write up city council meetings and other events in order to help the Headlight do more reporting on local stories. It feels a little strange, however, to consider volunteering on behalf of a private, for-profit corporation – indeed, one of the largest newspaper corporations in the country.

Luna County suffers record-setting unemployment, intensive poverty, and social problems related both to poverty and our proximity to the border. We need editorial voices addressing these subjects, which is why some of us write as volunteers. Otherwise, Billy is left to populate the editorial page with content from outside of the community. Variety is good, but there is not a sufficient balance of locally-oriented editorial writing or critical journalism. Meanwhile, again, the state police and the school district are covering themselves. I’m sure you see the problem.

Newspapers are a business. It’s been that way since the United States were still British colonies. I accept the presence of paid advertising. And I know that this business is getting tougher and tougher, and papers are being squeezed with budget reductions and fewer personnel. Yet the Headlight seems to be neglected, unable to carry on the essential social function of an effective local newspaper. If more resources cannot be distributed to the Headlight, then at the very least we need one or two Las Cruces reporters on a Deming beat. Yet I cannot help feeling that more should be done for this distinguished, old, and local newspaper.

If you wish to question me further about this or respond in any way, I can be conveniently reached via...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying so eloquently what I have felt!