Submitted by Carly Sauvageau
RENO–I grew up with newspapers. My parents had the Las Vegas Sun, the Reno Gazette-Journal, and the Tonopah Times Bonanza. Throughout my childhood newspapers were in the background of every day: Fridays I’d run into the grocery store to buy my mom an issue of the Tonopah Times Bonanza, Sundays the big papers with the cartoons came, and throughout the week my mom would talk about filing newspaper clippings at her job at the high school library.
As the years of the 2000s and 2010s went by though, I began to notice that the Las Vegas Sun and Reno Gazette-Journal didn’t deliver to Tonopah anymore. The Tonopah Times Bonanza switched from local ownership to being printed in Pahrump.
As I entered my undergrad education in journalism in 2016, the Tonopah Times Bonanza was entering their last year with a local reporter.
It was no secret by 2016 that the newspaper industry as we knew it was coming to an end. The doomsday reports predicting the last newspaper being printed by the 2040s seemed bleak as I questioned the industry I was going into–journalism.
As I continued my education however, I learned the various ways we were moving forward in communication. I learned how to make podcasts and videos, build a website, and optimize my social media presence, while also learning how to write a print story and how to keep a radio story short. The news industry did not seem so much dying as becoming something new.
As I was going through the last half of my undergraduate studies, I heard complaints when I visited home that the local paper had very few local stories in it anymore. The Pahrump operation, though putting in effort to cover Tonopah stories, could only do so much with their small staff. Tonopah has a Facebook page and an online presence, though it was nothing compared to more urban areas.
I saw the gaps in Reno’s coverage being filled by non-profit news organizations and online news. The gaps in Tonopah’s coverage did not have those organizations to fill in after the newspaper industry started to falter.
I started to learn about news deserts–the areas of the country that were receiving little to no media coverage. Rural areas, with the exception of a few states, seemed to be really suffering from the loss of local news. Nevada, being largely rural, had a unique place in this conversation and yet there was little being discussed.
As I entered my graduate education in 2020, I looked further into the problem of news deserts. It was discussed as a national problem, but there wasn’t much perspective on how that looked to a rural consumer. There was little nuance when discussing the problem. After my first semester of graduate school I knew I wanted to pursue this question: what do news deserts look like in rural Nevada?
The upcoming summer I needed to fulfill my practicum requirement for graduate school. That is when my committee chairman, Patrick File, mentioned pitching my interests to Donica Mensing, a professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism and one of the founders of the Nevada News Alliance. Donica, who had seen a previous documentary that I had worked on, suggested that I make a documentary on news deserts in Nevada and she would organize an event where it could be screened.
We had this conversation in May 2021 and knew it would be a challenge to get a documentary together in that short of time. However, through multiple conversations on what it could be, two trips to film in Tonopah, one trip to Pahrump and lots of help and feedback from Donica, as well as two of my other professors, Nico Colombant and Kari Barber, we got the documentary together by the Oct. 19 event.
It was thrilling to see my work on something I cared about be shown to professionals in the field and some rural news organizations themselves. My hope for the film is to bring awareness to the situation for the media in rural areas. I’ve seen what a community can do to keep news alive in Reno, and I’d like to see if that is possible throughout the state.