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Q: How can we save local newspapers?

Credit: The Church Times

A:

That’s the question dominating the airwaves, podcasts, and headlines, and one we should all be asking in light of the local news crisis I wrote about in my last post. The good news is that the conversation has started, and people are beginning to realize that they need local news to be active and informed members of their communities. A robust local news eco-system gives people a common set of facts to inform their opinions and votes. It also holds local officials accountable, uncovers corruption, and promotes social cohesion and civic engagement, two characteristics of a healthy and vibrant society. 

So what can be done?

The experts say saving local newspapers and community-based reporting cannot rely on one grand strategy or past business models—instead, we need to reimagine what local news in the 21st century looks like, and that’s going to take innovation and investment. 

Pen America’s excellent report, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions, looks at several options to revitalize community-based reporting but, more importantly, makes the case that local journalism should be considered  “a public good rather than a commercial product.” The argument is simple:  if people accept that the very foundations of American democracy are threatened without access to information and watchdog journalism, they will be more willing to do their part and call on elected officials to do theirs. The Pen America study endorses a four-pronged approach, with investments across the philanthropic, private, and public sectors: 

  1. Boost philanthropic giving to local news
  2. Ensure that tech giants pay for local news consumed on their platforms
  3. Update laws and regulations to support local news
  4. Increase public funding for local journalism

There’s also an important role for you, the news consumer. With ad revenue drying up, local news outlets rely even more on your support. A Knight Foundation report found that 86 percent of Americans say everyone should have access to local news, but only one in five has paid for it in the last year. You can help by subscribing to a local news newspaper or donating to non-profit and public media outlets like NPR. You can also start a conversation with local reporters through letters to the editor or story suggestions.

Since reinvigorating local journalism will require both private and public support, tell your elected officials that you value local reporting and that it plays a vital role in our democracy and your community. Finally, consider signing this petition calling on Congress to convene a “Commission of Public Support for Local News” to evaluate the current state of our local news eco-system and propose solutions to the local news crisis. 

 If you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you for reading and please help sound the alarm.  This a national crisis of such scale and significance that it requires a national response.