News

We media people know all too well that many local news sources are deeply troubled, financially, but most Americans do not know. And most Americans aren’t accustomed to paying for local news. So that’s a real problem to be overcome.
This kind of journalism—local papers that are rooted in communities—is disappearing, and the places most at risk of losing their local news are places where a lot of conservatives happen to live. COVID-19 has wrought havoc on newsrooms, and massive layoffs continue to occur at newspapers across the country. But even before the pandemic, the crisis in local journalism was well established.

Between 2008 and 2017, American newspapers cut 45 percent of their newsrooms staff—and the following years, for many outlets, brought even deeper contractions. From 2004 to 2015, the United States lost more than 1,800 print outlets—some because of corporate mergers and others because of simple closures. Fewer than one in six Americans subscribe to a local newspaper, in either print or digital form.

Newspapers in every state received forgivable, low-interest loans through the Paycheck Protection Program to keep journalists working during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released this week by the Small Business Administration.
Not so long ago, the Youngstown Vindicator sent someone to cover every municipal or school board meeting in the surrounding three-county area. “People knew that,” said Mark Brown, former general manager of the northeastern Ohio newspaper, “and they behaved.”
“As local journalism declines, government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness, and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked. With the loss of local news, citizens are: less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office.” Democracy weakens, in other words, and loses its foundations.
Stuck between a constricting print business model and a shaky digital future, a time made even more unstable by the coronavirus, editors and reporters have been forced to scale back their ambitions. A careful reader can detect the gaps, the stories not told, the voices not heard.

Local newspaper reporters who doggedly attend school board, planning commission and city council meetings and who scan police blotters and pore over budgets and contracts are essential cogs in our communities. They serve as the eyes and ears of the public and play a critical role as watchdogs for waste, fraud and abuse and holding officials accountable.

I know this firsthand: I began what became a nearly three-decade journalism career playing this role in Colonie, New York, and later in Bergen County, New Jersey.