Derrick: Got a tax refund? Here’s how to spend it

About 3 in 4 Americans will receive a tax refund this year, and the IRS reports the average disbursement is actually more than 10% higher than last year, despite hand-wringing about the potential for anemic refunds. Better yet, some of the highest average refunds are going to Floridians, according to recent CBS News reporting.

This is great news for many, but it also raises a key question: What should you do with that extra cash? 

Paying off high-interest debt is certainly a leading recommendation, and CNBC found 46% of Americans plan to save their refunds. 

Either of those is a solid financial decision, but I would like to suggest another: Support good local journalism

It’s been said that communities get the journalism they support. This is true. Eschewing opinion, partisanship and sensationalism come at a financial cost. Pavement-pounding journalism is not cheap, and it can only occur where local communities—people, businesses and institutions—give it the resources necessary to operate. 

Here’s another key question: How do you define good local journalism?

In 2018, Duke University research found that news deserts are more widespread than previously known—because even communities with media outlets are often not getting local stories. 

“Journalistic output is falling very short of serving the important information needs of many communities in America,” reported Philip Napoli, a Duke professor who was the lead author of the study.

Napoli’s research team studied 100 communities outside of major U.S. media markets. They found that just 17% of news stories provided to a community were truly local—which they defined as being “about or having taken place within the municipality.” Perhaps more stunningly, they found 20 “local” outlets that published not a single local story.

I decided to see how Mainstreet measures up, so I ran the numbers. So far this month we have published 145 stories (roughly 5.5 per day), and of those a whopping 88% were about or took place within our coverage area. 

Here’s another question Duke researchers evaluated: How many stories were about local news, produced locally, and addressed critical information (issues pertaining to emergencies and risks, health, education, civic life, political life, transportation, environment and planning or economic development)? Only 12% of stories met all three criteria. 

Once again, Mainstreet blows away the field. A check of this month’s news stories reveals that we have so far produced 74 stories about critical information. Setting aside 30 local sports stories, that means more than 64% of our news stories were about critical information.

Those numbers are unofficial, of course, but I would welcome Professor Napoli to double-check my math. 

The point is that, from Gainesville to Lake City and Cedar Key to Hawthorne, Mainstreet is providing a vital public service to North Central Florida. What is that worth to you? You can use our secure online portal to tell us.

We are grateful for your support as we continue to bring you the news and information you care about most. 

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