Why local news matters and how you can help
by Beth Kassab / March 7, 2023
Winter Park is a special place and one of the many elements that make up this city’s spirit and identity is this very site: The Winter Park Voice.
Love it or hate it, the Voice has delivered important news about one of Florida’s biggest small towns for more than a decade as other sources of local news here and across the country have faded.
Regional newspapers long ago lost the resources required to give communities the attention they deserve. But because of a group of civic-minded residents who cared about maintaining an informed electorate, the Voice was born to help fill some of that gap in Winter Park.
That’s what I mean by Winter Park’s spirit: A sense of community so strong that people were willing to come together (even from different political persuasions) to ensure that city elections, growth and development and other significant events are documented by an independent source.
That’s why I’m so honored to step into the editor’s role to not only continue that legacy, but to help grow the Voice’s presence and visibility as a hyperlocal news leader.
I spent 20 years devoted to local journalism at the Orlando Sentinel, where I came to realize a great irony about American democracy. Many voters can discuss (or at least parrot talking points heard on cable news or social media) why they like one presidential candidate or one party over another. But most would be hard-pressed to name all of the members of their city or county commissions.
Yet it’s local officials who make the most crucial decisions about our quality of life and how much we will pay for it. In Winter Park, it’s the five people who step onto the dais every two weeks who decide the price of water and electricity and how to make sure its clean and reliable; whether to add more parks and green space; how to address traffic congestion; the level of police and fire service; and even how easy it is to pull a permit to renovate your house or business.
Such choices hit right in the wallet because they impact home values or the cost of monthly utilities. And then there are the intangible effects like how people feel when they enter a neighborhood or drive down an old brick street shaded by a green tree canopy.
Whoever is in the White House or in control of Congress has little or no control over many of the decisions that shape our everyday lives.
That’s why a number of organizations around the country have called the loss of local news sources a crisis of democracy.
Last year’s State of Local News report from Northwestern University noted that the United States has lost a quarter of its newspapers (more than 2,500) since 2005 and that figure is on track to go up to more than a third of newspapers by 2025.
“In communities without a credible source of local news, voter participation declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout,” the report stated.
For all of those reasons, sites like the Voice are crucial to helping people better understand and influence the places where they live and work. We are a small operation (I’m the only employee, though there is a group of reliable contributors) and, like all news organizations, we won’t be able to cover every story.
My goal is to find stories that inform, surprise and even entertain you with unfailing attention to truth, accuracy and fairness. Over time, I hope you will come to this site to find a mix of hard news that provides a dose of transparency and accountability to local governments and businesses along with feature stories that help showcase what makes Winter Park so very special.
The Voice is supported financially by people in the community just like you and you can find our major funders here or make a contribution here. We don’t sell ads or subscriptions. Our content and emailed newsletter are free and our editorial policy notes that financial donors do not play a role in news decisions nor do funders review stories or other content in advance of publication. Even our largest supporters see the stories at the same time as everyone else – when they are published on the site.
I am incredibly grateful to Anne Mooney, the Voice’s editor for nearly nine years and one of the most professional, caring and talented journalists and people I know. Anne has agreed to stay on as an advisor and contributor and her guidance has been invaluable to me through this transition.
I’m excited to get to know even more of you and want to hear your ideas, questions and concerns. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at WinterParkVoiceEditor@gmail.com or leave a comment on this column. We also encourage you to join our Facebook group and find us on Twitter.
Related: Voice Names New Editor