Don’t stop the presses. When local news struggles, democracy withers

Only 20 percent of adults in the US get news regularly from a print paper; that drops to 5 percent among 18- to 29-year-olds./ERIN BRETHAUER FOR WIRED

By Henri Gendreay | Wired

Thomas Peele’s friend keeps bugging him. “Are you going to win?” the friend writes over Facebook. “I think you’re going to win.” “What are you going to do when you win?” “Shut up,” Peele thinks. He’s an old-school watchdog reporter. Blue eyes that bore into you. Fewer words, better.

It’s a Monday in April, and Peele and his colleagues at the East Bay Times, a newspaper in Oakland, California, are waiting to find out whether they’ve won the biggest award in journalism. For five months the paper has been reporting on the fallout of a fire that killed 36 people when it ripped through an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship. Illegally converted into artist residences, the building had a tangled layout that made it hard to escape. The Times’ coverage has painted the tragedy—Oakland’s deadliest fire—as symptomatic of the city’s lax fire-code enforcement and its affordable-housing crisis.

Peele wonders if he should have bought a case of champagne; he saw a sale at the grocery store over the weekend. No, best he didn’t. You don’t want to jinx these things. They probably won’t win anyway. He tells himself the newsroom would have gotten a heads-up, right? While he sits in his cubicle, psyching himself down for defeat, two colleagues, David DeBolt and Matthias Gafni, busy themselves with a story about another fire, one that killed four people.

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