Congressional leaders said on Sunday that lawmakers agreed to expand forgivable government loans to additional struggling local news outlets as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill.
Kipen started lobbying for a new Writers’ Project in opinion columns and letters to lawmakers. One US congressman—Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat—wrote back to Kipen expressing interest in the idea, and now hopes to introduce a bill in the next Congress.
The relief bill in front of Congress includes a NewsGuild-supported provision that will expand Paycheck Protection Program loans to local newsrooms across the country. “Local news is facing an extinction-level event and this is an important step to help stem the layoffs and closures of newsrooms across the country,” NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss said Monday.
It is equally hard to exaggerate how destructive this decline has been to the fabric and functioning of American democracy. One study found that in communities where newspapers close and there are no reporters keeping an eye on the decisions of local officials, municipal government wages, deficits, and borrowing costs rise. Local news outlets tend to be far more trusted by readers on both sides of the political aisle than national publications. When they disappear, citizens turn to national news sources, often partisan ones, or rely on social media for information. The result is more party-line voting and small-town residents mobilizing against mythical antifa infiltrations. Indeed, as this magazine has reported, the rise of authoritarian politics in America correlates to an alarming degree with the waning of local news.
After an ex-journalist moved back to his hometown and found that the local paper had closed, he created his own, staffing it mostly with teenagers.
“I used to think the problem with local journalism was that the people running them didn’t understand the internet. And I think genuinely the problem is they don’t understand newspapers. Because they don’t understand the job of journalism, which is to write stories about the community.”
Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, one of the shooting victims. Chamblee praised the Capital Gazette’s staff for its undaunted coverage in the wake of calamity, and said that such work would be unthinkable now, given recent layoffs and the closure of the newsroom. “They can’t just drive around with a laptop in their car, and go to McDonald’s for the Wi-Fi to upload their story, and take the picture from their iPhone, and be everywhere they want to be and talk to everybody they want to talk to,” she said.
One year ago, the vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought nearly a third of the stock in Tribune Publishing, one of the nation’s most venerable newspaper chains, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sun-Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and others. Since then, the changes in Tribune have been swift and devastating.