News

In the past five months, Congress has responded to the coronavirus public health crisis with several emergency relief measures, including the stimulus checks sent to individuals and households, payroll protections to small businesses, expanded unemployment payments and fee waivers for borrowing against 401(k) plans.

Our founders recognized as much when they enshrined protections for a strong free press in the Constitution. We’ve seen the commitment local journalists bring to this role, as local news organizations continue to churn out daily reporting on life-saving public health info on COVID-19 in their regions. Despite facing existential financial threats, many of these outlets are even making their COVID-19 coverage free to all readers as a public service.

People who read newspapers, either in print or digitally, tend to be regular voters and are more likely to be civically engaged. That’s good for everyone. Finally, the bill would provide a nonrefundable tax credit to small- to medium-sized businesses that advertise in local newspapers, print or digitally, or on local radio and television stations.
Over the past few years, the newspaper industry has been slowly acquired by deep-pocketed financial companies that believe they can cut costs, shift to digital distribution and create better returns. Now, as coronavirus-induced layoffs mount at local newspapers, journalists and industry observers fear that the pandemic could pave the way for further consolidation.
Hedge-fund ownership is one of, if not the, worst developments that have occurred for newspapers. These companies don’t care about journalism. They care about strip-mining what’s left for whatever profits can be squeezed, not with an eye to a sustainable future but with an eye toward next quarter’s balance sheet.
Newspapers and mayors aren’t always friendly. If journalists aren’t prying into the inner workings of City Hall, they aren’t doing their jobs. Tension needn’t breed animosity, though, and a couple of big-city mayors went to bat for their local newspapers last month.
“One of the biggest problems we have in journalism right now, is hedge funds are bleeding newsrooms dry,” said Jon Schleuss, president of the News Guild International, the union that represents reporters at The Sun and other papers. The funds treat “newspapers and news publications as distressed assets,” he said.
The local-news losses are startling: As I write in my new book, Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy, in the past 15 years, more than 2,100 local newspapers have gone out of business, according to the journalism scholar Penny Muse Abernathy at the University of North Carolina.