News

Poynter Institute has reported that 50 U.S. newspapers, mostly weeklies in small communities, have closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring. They are among the more than 2,100 newspapers — mostly weeklies and representing one in four newspapers — that have shut down since 2004, based on research on “news deserts” by journalism professor Penny Muse Abernathy at the University of North Carolina.

Readers called and emailed the Florida Times-Union over the past year with appreciation for the newspaper’s commitment to uncovering apparent secret deals behind the now-canceled attempt to sell the city of Jacksonville’s municipally-owned utility to a private entity.

There’s a hunger for accurate and useful news coverage right now — even more so than usual — because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic and because we’re now only a few months away from a consequential election for the state and the nation.

A look at the most read stories in recent days on The Daily Herald’s online publication, HeraldNet.com, shows that nearly half addressed either the pandemic or the Aug. 4 primary election.

SINCE EARLY APRIL, Kristen Hare—a reporter who typically covers local news innovations for the Poynter Institute—has been compiling a list of newsroom layoffs, cutbacks, closures, and furloughs, reporting most recently that the covid-19 pandemic has closed more than fifty local newsrooms across the United States. The Journalism Crisis Project—a joint venture between the Tow Center and the Columbia Journalism Review—depends on the work of important collaborators like Hare.

Hedge fund ownership of newspaper groups typically spells doom for the newsrooms. Just ask some of the former employees at the Denver Post who famously revolted against owner Alden Global Capital's order to cut staff.

But Chatham Asset Management's takeover of McClatchy — scheduled to be finalized on Tuesday — is actually inspiring some cautious optimism among its journalists. That's because Chatham has agreed to allow all employees to keep their jobs while honoring existing union contracts under the hedge fund's plan to pay $312 million for the newspaper conglomerate.

New rounds of newsroom layoffs are turning others into weak and woefully incomplete stewards of local journalism. With no witnesses, reports of corruption and incompetence in powerful institutions will go down, as corruption and incompetence in powerful institutions actually increases. No one will be watching.
The decline of local news can have significant consequences for communities, Sullivan tells Couric. Citizens tend to become less civically engaged, less likely to vote and more likely to “go into their partisan corners” and vote along party lines when they do go to the polls. Without the contributions of local news reporters, Sullivan warns, “our democracy actually doesn’t work any more.”

There is a widening gulf between American aspirations for and assessments of the news media. With each passing benchmark study, the American people render deeper and increasingly polarized judgments about the news media and how well it is fulfilling its role in our democracy.