Washington Post: The pandemic has made local news indispensable. It’s also killing it.

“WE COULD see it happening, but the speed has been stunning. One day, you’re a profitable newspaper, doing better every year; the next, almost all of our ad revenue is wiped out with no clear sign of when it will return.” So wrote the editor in chief of the Riverfront Times on March 18 as he announced the layoff of nearly the entire staff of the newspaper and suspension of its print edition because of the economic havoc caused by covid-19. The St. Louis alternative weekly is far from alone as local newspapers across the country cut salaries, furlough workers and suspend — or even cease — operations.

It’s true that much of the local news industry had fallen on hard times well before covid-19. But the pandemic is inflicting new damage even as it underscores the crucial role of local newspapers. In this public health emergency, people turn to local media for answers to what The Post’s Margaret Sullivan called “life-or-death information” such as “Where to get tested?” and “Is it safe to go outside?” Local officials depend on local media to help get information out; many newspapers, recognizing their role in the community, are providing stories about covid-19 at no charge online.

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