Every community has a story | SAVE THE NEWS

American democracy depends on every citizen having easy access to credible, factual information they need to make informed decisions about their health, their safety, their government, and their everyday lives. 

But that kind of essential information is getting harder to find as the news industry is gripped by a crisis: The business model that sustained American journalism has collapsed as advertising revenue abandoned news publications in favor of a handful of technology companies. Many cities and towns have lost local news coverage entirely. At least 2,100 newspapers have folded across the U.S. since 2004, and 1,300 communities have become “news deserts.” 

But the fact that the business model for the news industry has changed doesn’t mean that the public service these news sources provide is any less important. In communities that have no newspaper, fewer people vote and the cost of their government increases. Partisanship increases with the loss of the community connection created by common sources of information.

The NewsGuild represents 16,000 American journalists, and we believe that journalists and their work are essential to a functioning democracy. We call for public policy solutions to the crisis facing the news industry that  focus not just on jobs and revenue, but on supporting the critical role of a free, independent and robust press in American life. To that end, we offer an agenda for public policy that will restore and sustain American journalism, resting on three pillars. 

More journalism jobs

Newspapers need new streams of revenue to support robust staffing. New funding, whether from taxpayer funding, subsidies or fees, must be channeled toward restoring or adding newsroom jobs — not inflating the bottom line of news companies.

More local

To save local news America needs stronger regulation of media consolidation, and incentives both for the breakup of existing media chains and the purchase of news organizations by civic-minded, local owners, including non-profits, public benefit corporations, co-ops and employee-ownership models.

More press freedom

Press freedom fundamentally stems from the ability of journalists to gather and publish the news without interference or intimidation from individuals, government or their employers. 

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"While journalists are covering the biggest story of their lives, the news industry is fighting to survive. That’s why we're fighting to #SaveTheNews to keep reporters on the streets and our communities connected."

"Furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs are impacting tens of thousands of journalists – just when Americans need news most. Fight to #SaveTheNews."

"Journalists are at work providing life-saving information to readers, with many outlets offering COVID-19 coverage for free as a public service. It is critical for Congress to provide funding for local newsrooms and journalists. Help #SaveTheNews."

As the pandemic recedes in the United States, few businesses may emerge so transformed as local and regional newspapers. More than 70 local newsrooms have closed over the past 15 months, with hundreds of media jobs lost, as the already difficult financial conditions in the industry intensified during the crisis. By some estimates, a staggering 2,100 local newspapers, or one in four, have closed in the US since 2005. But into the carnage a new breed of owner has emerged: one that has industry veterans and media observers deeply worried about the future of journalism in America and its ability to act as part of a functioning democracy. According to a recent analysis, hedge funds or private equity firms now control half of US daily newspapers, including some of the largest newspaper groups in the country: Tribune, McClatchy and MediaNews Group.
Already, steps to strip cash from the business and lay off staff have begun. The Associated Press reports that Alden “wasted little time installing new leadership and saddling the newspaper chain with $278 million in debt it took on for the acquisition.” The new owners also are seeking to reduce staff levels by encouraging employees to accept a voluntary buyout. According to Keith Kelly of the New York Post, the buyout “provides eight weeks’ severance for all staffers with three years or less of service. It provides 12 weeks for staffers with four or more years and then one additional week’s pay for each year of service.”
With Alden Global Capital’s recent acquisition of the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain, the country has reached a troubling milestone: Half of the daily newspaper circulation in America is now owned by hedge funds. This is a real threat to democracy, because hedge funds and private equity firms have a track record of cutting the reporting staff of local newsrooms to increase profits. We must stop viewing this trend as inevitable. We need to confront it head on, including with public policies.
“One of the concerns and one of the realities for us probably is that however compensation is going to be directed, the media with the larger audiences will get a larger share of the compensation,” Rush said. The NewsGuild, a union representing more than 25,000 journalists, also is watching the bill. But the union refuses to support it until language is added to ensure that at least 60% of any additional revenue earned is tied to jobs, NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said. The issue, Schleuss said, is that the journalism industry is seeing increasing consolidation, and many financial actors do not care about investing in local news. If the bill passes as is, news companies would not have a legal obligation to use money they earn to keep local journalists employed. “Whatever added revenue needs to be tied to jobs,” Schleuss said. “It can’t go to executive compensation. We can’t have stock buybacks, we can’t have dividends. It needs to go to jobs.”
NINE OF THE TEN newspapers that won Pulitzer Prizes for local reporting over the last decade experienced some form of cutbacks over the past year, according to data collected by the Tow Center and CJR. Three prize-winning outlets implemented layoffs, and four had their print runs affected, with pay cuts and furloughs scattered throughout. Some cuts have been restored; others haven’t. In many ways, these statistics are unsurprising; staggering numbers of local publications were shaken by the destabilizing effect of the pandemic, and few were left untouched. Still, it’s telling that even those papers that have won national recognition and acclaim for the importance and excellence of their journalism also found—and find—themselves on unstable ground.
In our research we found that less local news meant more polarization. Then, with a little luck, we were also able to study the other side of the coin — whether more local news could actually bring people together.

Our new research shows that the US government is notable among democratic nations for how little it funds its public media.

Though the collapse of community journalism is real enough, we believe that its causes are only partly understood. Researchers generally focus on the changes wrought by technology over the past quarter-century — changes that tell an important story, but not the whole story.