Last week, there was a feeling of dread in the media world. Gannett, the company that owns The Commercial Appeal, announced there would be layoffs on Friday and it wasn’t clear which of the chain’s newspapers would be affected. 

As it turned out the CA didn’t lose any journalists that day. 

That’s good news.

Local journalism is in trouble. According to a 2022 report from Northwestern University, 70 million Americans live in counties without a newspaper or with only one. Digital and nonprofit sites such as  MLK50 help, but most are young and still growing. A lack of local news can have dire consequences. Another study shows that “As Americans have shifted away from local news, turnout in state and local elections has fallen, and communities that have lost reporters have seen fewer candidates run for local office.”  Losing a newspaper can even increase the cost of governance

Think of that mega ballot in the recent Shelby County election. Many candidates ran unopposed. How well-informed did you feel as you voted? 

While MLK50 has a different mission and a different approach than the CA, we share our work with them. We want as many people as possible to see our work and see that our equity-focused approach means even better journalism. And we share some of the same goals as the CA: to inform Memphians and to monitor the city’s leadership. It’s a big job and we need all hands on deck. 

That’s especially true now as the city’s criminal justice system stands poised for transformation. On Sept. 1, Steve Mulroy becomes the new DA and Municipal Court judge Tarik Sugarmon becomes the Juvenile Court judge. County mayor Lee Harris begins his new tenure. And, an eight-year project begins for journalists. Memphians voted for change and our job is to report on whether they get what they asked for, what is working, what isn’t, what it all means. 

At MLK50, we’re already planning how best to do that. An initial step is our recent story written by staff writer Brittany Brown. During the election season, we wanted to be guided by the experts — people affected by the system or in close contact with those who are. Post-election, we still want to take that approach. So Brittany talked to the grassroots leaders who have been working to change our criminal justice system and asked them what they wanted to see in the new DA’s first year. 

We turned those conversations into what we’re calling the People’s Checklist. It’s a roadmap for us from the people on the ground, guiding us on what we should be looking for, helping us think about the questions we should be asking, reminding us what’s most relevant to our readers. 

The DA race got national attention. Now we’re on the other side; John Legend and Common have moved on. 

We want to hold leadership accountable. We want you to hold us accountable, too. Media should work for you, not against you. 

So we’re glad we didn’t lose any journalists in this latest round of layoffs in the media world. Memphians need as much (good) information as possible. We support every entity that’s trying to provide that. We consider ourselves partners in that mission. 

These days, you can’t have enough good quality news. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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