While Marquette has been divided over Northern Michigan’s student paper The North Wind, some people are just rolling their eyes and saying “stuff like that doesn’t actually happen here.” But now the responses with federal court are filed and there are interesting arguments on both sides regarding personal freedom, educational rights and equality no matter where the case is held.

We’ve broken up the case so far into four parts to give as equal and fair coverage as possible, using quotes from public documents, interviewing the people involved and providing all of the case filings for the public to read. Today is the final part of the series identifying what factors in Marquette made this worse.

Alright Marquette, it is finally time to have a serious discussion about media and journalism in this town.

If you’ve followed along for the first three parts – the legal basics of the case and how it could make the textbooks, a chance to see the defense’s side since they’ve been quiet since the initial filing and the evidence that the plaintiffs believe proves interference with the North Wind Board of Directors – those have taken a very formal tone. This part is going to be more casual. We should be encouraging discussion about this pseudoculture surrounding Marquette’s media but also I have to write about myself, which is weird when there’s not another staff member to help out with that.

So let’s go through this one factor at a time.

Population density and geographic isolation makes Marquette a completely different media market

Media markets are geographic regions where you would get your local programming of television, radio or written media. These are important for things like advertising, Neilson ratings and helps define what would be considered local coverage.

There are 210 designated market areas in the United States and they are often ranked based on how many households have a television. New York is first, Los Angeles second, Chicago third and Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth and the San Francisco Bay Area are all pretty close for fourth. Marquette is the only media market in the UP and is ranked 180.

But just because it isn’t the biggest market doesn’t mean that there aren’t unique challenges to Marquette. We are based in the largest county and have the lowest population density of any media market east of the Mississippi River.

This puts a huge stress on media resources, which are already stretched thin. Some reporters will spend hours travelling to a car accident at the crossroads, a meth bust in Ishpeming, a charity event in Gwinn and then back to the station where they have to edit and put together a pro-level package, record a voice over and (for some of them) anchor a 6 or 11 p.m. broadcast.

Oh and good luck getting someone to talk. There are a lot of shy people up here that don’t feel comfortable around a camera despite having a great quote that can make these news stories better. That has a huge impact in putting the news together. I was freelancing a piece and got international phone calls from Edmonton and Montreal returned faster than I can get people in this town to call back a blogger.

For journalists to get a raise, they usually have to move to a bigger market. So journalists usually fresh out of college will come get their first jobs in Marquette, work for a couple years and then move somewhere else. We hear about that all the time now thanks to Word on the Street, who regularly reports on how someone from TV6 or ABC 10 heads off to Green Bay or Jacksonville.

We don’t see what other journalists are doing in other markets

Due to Marquette’s geographic isolation, there is almost no market bleeding. That’s where the local programming from another market’s stations can be readily accessible in a different market.

Look at Lafayette, Ind., which is ranked 189th. They can get broadcast signals from Chicago, South Bend, Springfield, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne side-by-side with their two stations.

This phenomenon is great because it forces a direct comparison between some of America’s best journalists, some more in the middle and some new journalist pros. Since there is always something else the citizens of Lafayette can compare with, which forces Lafayette to do the investigative journalism and the big concept pieces that not all small markets see.

In Marquette, we don’t see what other journalists do. We haven’t had an out-of-market signal since Green Bay’s Fox station was replaced by FOX UP. We don’t see how hard the other media groups push for sources, interact with critics, what local circumstances challenge their ethics or how they handle the really big stories.

Newspapers are even worse. We don’t even have the opportunity to see how other papers do layouts and headlines since daily newspapers stopped coming to the area. Most of the newspapers in the central UP are all owned by the same company, so not a lot of difference there either. The closest thing we get to see any of those other layouts are on ESPN when there’s a big headline to feature or social media where some groups share images of their front page.

We don’t have a way to actively compare and contrast journalistic styles. Since the explosion of web reporting the media is going through growing pains anyway, so this is a significant disadvantage for Marquette.

That leaves us with only how we “think” journalism should work, which leads us to this:

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