opinion

During these tough times, local journalism matters most

Daily Memphian’s unique mission is why I came here

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 09, 2020 7:20 PM CT | Published: April 09, 2020 3:50 PM CT
Ronnie Ramos
Daily Memphian

Ronnie Ramos

Ronnie Ramos is executive editor of The Daily Memphian. 

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During these difficult times, one of the most important things we need is information. Timely, accurate and locally-focused information.

We are humbled so many of you have come to depend on The Daily Memphian during the past two weeks. Last week, we had more people come to our site than at any time in our short history. That this is happening when the stakes are the highest – and quality information is most needed – is not a coincidence. Local journalism matters. And it matters most during the most trying times.

We have worked tirelessly to bring you the most important news as it happens, updating our site dozens and dozens of times each day. We also have advocated for more transparency from our community leaders, demanding key information that matters to you.


Memphis needs answers


For example, after we demanded the release of the total number of people being tested here in Memphis, that information began to be released. This week, we not only told you of the problems with the national models trying to predict how bad the coronavirus will impact Memphis, but we were the first to tell you there is a Tennessee-specific model about to be made available.

We think you have a right to know how many people in Memphis are hospitalized with the coronavirus, how many people are in critical condition, and on ventilators. Residents in Louisiana, for example, get this information. Yet state and county health officials here refuse to release that information. We will continue to ask for that information for you.

It is precisely at times like this that Memphis needs local journalism, run by local residents. Because of the critical public need for quality information, we have made all of our coronavirus content free to everyone. We have done it for almost a month. And during this time, many of you have responded impressively. We need that continued support. Subscribe and join our mission.

Our mission, to save local journalism, has never been more important. Just look at what is happening to local journalists all around the country and here in Memphis. The non-profit journalism site Poynter has pulled together a list of all the newsroom cuts and furloughs. The number of cuts is stunning.


Predicting the surge in Memphis: will a new state-specific model work better?


But even as vital information is most needed, some local newspapers and television stations, run by national companies focused on the bottom line, are cutting their newsrooms by as much as 25%. Think about that – when the public needs information the most, they are cutting crucial reporting resources. Obviously, that decision was not made in Memphis, but in corporate offices elsewhere.

Not here. We have added staff and resources, investing in Memphis. We have started live streaming key meetings so you can hear directly from our leaders, as it happens. We have partnered more closely with veteran local journalists to deliver unique content you will not get anywhere else.

As a non-profit, we don’t have to worry about hedge fund managers cutting our resources when the city needs us the most. As a locally-run company, we don’t have our sports editor based in a different city, our social media accounts run in another state, the content of some of our products decided by a centralized operation elsewhere.

It’s one of the many reasons why we now have more digital subscribers than any other Memphis news organization.

For journalists, when things get the hardest, we are most needed. It has been that way throughout my 36-year career in this business. I worked at the Miami Herald in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew, at that time only the third category 5 hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland, devastated my hometown.

Amid the tragedy and despair, people wanted reliable, quality information. In Miami, in 1992, it was the morning newspaper, somehow, some way delivered among the destruction. Residents would literally thank the carriers, because the information was so needed.

I came to Memphis only recently. I was the editor of the Indianapolis Star, one of the largest of the 260-plus newspapers now run by Gannett. The staff did great journalism – their incredible work exposing the horrific abuse of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar played a large part in his arrest and conviction.

It was a great job. But I worried about the future of local journalism. Publishing a printed and an online edition is not the answer, I was convinced. Waiting for the print edition to die only hurts the ability to invest in local journalists.

I wished someone would start a local online news site – one that covered local news and everything else. I imagined the staff being a mix of journalists who have local knowledge, subject-matter expertise and innovative digital talent. I wished that it would be a non-profit, but run like a local business invested in the community. And, just once, I wished someone would make sure there was local customer service, not some faceless company in a foreign country. I wished there was a local news site of, by and for the local community. That, to me, would be the future of local journalism.

One day, I got a call. Let me tell you about The Daily Memphian, they said. I became a believer. I came to Memphis convinced that if The Daily Memphian succeeds, it becomes that model for the future of local journalism.

Then this pandemic changed the world. I have seen how this city and this newsroom have responded. Like in Miami after Andrew, people are thanking us for the work we are doing. Emails, handwritten notes.

Am I still a believer?

I am buying a house in Memphis. Closing is next week.

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