Note: This Op-Ed ran originally in the Carroll Times-Herald on April 29th, 2020.
Each morning Sen. Joni Ernst walks into her Red Oak kitchen, and while getting nourishment for the day, listens to her local radio station, KCSI, which she tells us is about a mile from her house. She follows that up later in the day with consumption of her local newspaper, The Red Oak Express.
This media is where the senator, a former Montgomery County auditor, gets news she trusts on the school board, local government and general business of southwest Iowa. She sees the connectivity and facts the broadcasters and print journalists bring to their towns as essential during the coronavirus crisis.
U.S. Senate Photographic Studio
The senator’s daily local media diet is replicated by other Iowans who tune in to dozens of radio stations and read more than 250 newspapers across the Hawkeye State, Ernst said in an interview with the Times Herald in which she advocated aggressive federal efforts to rescue local media from the weight of crushing losses of advertising revenue during the Great Shuttering, the nation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“If I want to know what’s going on in my community, where I can go to volunteer, maybe what group is holding a benefit fundraiser, whatever it might happen to be, or maybe what the new hours are for the local grocery store so that seniors can go in early and pick up the supplies they need and not be as vulnerable, that’s where you turn to,” Ernst said. “You’re going to go to your local newspapers; you’re going to go to your local radio station — and those are the real heroes out there.”
The Republican senator on April 23 joined a bipartisan coalition of 74 U.S. senators in calling for extension of federal forgivable loans to local media and for federal agencies to spend advertising dollars for public-service announcements in local newspapers, radio and TV on such matters as U.S. Department of Agriculture programs for farmers and small town businesses, information on how Iowa businesses can get involved in bidding for government contracts and, most urgently, where to get the life-and-death facts on public-health concerns.
“You have just gone through a whole laundry list, and there are many, many more opportunities where we can promote various programs within the federal government, especially if you look at the pandemic,” she said. “This is the opportunity to really push out information.”
Ernst, the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, said she would look at asking military branches to run recruiting in small-town newspapers as well.
Ernst said she is willing to use letters to the Office of Management and Budget, the bully pulpit and even legislation to support local media.
“Either way, we need to go,” Ernst said. “If I get blocked in one avenue, I’m going to find another way around it.”
Bottom line, CNN and other national media just don’t do what local newspapers and radio stations in Iowa do, and it’s frightening to think of the state of discourse, and democracy, if these outlets fall victim to COVID-19, Ernst said, adding that Iowa can’t afford to allow news deserts to form.
“This is so important, because our local communities rely on their local media outlets to provide the information of the day,” Ernst said. “It’s great to have national broadcasters putting out national news, but when it comes to our own hometowns, our own areas, maybe what’s going on, where we can support, where we can go for assistance, it’s the local media outlets that are providing that, and they have gone the extra mile during this pandemic.”
So what does the senator think about the manner in which the Times Herald has covered her over the last seven years? We’ve attended all of the senator’s Roast and Ride events in Des Moines and Boone, and have written exhaustively about her economic-development work with the Carroll Area Development Corporation. We’ve been critical of some of the senator’s votes and television advertising, but our most well-read piece on her, one I penned after one of her visits to Carroll, made the case for Ernst as President Trump’s best choice for vice president. (She told me her mom loved that column.)
Overall, does Ernst, who is fighting for our family business in Washington, D,C, right now, think the Carroll Times Herald has been fair to her?
“I think you have been to fair me, so thank you,” Ernst said.
Right back at you, senator. Thanks for understanding the value of rural media, and how community journalism differs from the outrage peddlers of cable television and most of the Internet.
We’ll be crying for joy in our own ink when those public-service ads arrive. And we’ll be able to keep fulfilling our role as the steadying leg, the Fourth Estate, of democracy.
About the Author: Doug Burns is a small business owner and the vice president of news at Carol Times- Herald. The newspaper has been in business in Carroll for close to 150 years. In 2013, the Daily Times Herald was named Iowa Newspaper Association’s Newspaper of the Year. Doug is a political independent and is the third generation of his family involved with the Carol Times Herald.