FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 02, 2019
Pick a local government story and tell two reasons why it's important.
Show another example of this newspaper's value to your community.
Now list at least three advantages a local paper has over broadcast news, podcasts or social media.
Be grateful for the newspaper that hosts this quiz and don't take local journalism for granted. As the industry continues to face critical economic challenges, the survival of some daily and weekly papers is in jeopardy. Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print outlets have shut in the United States, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper – a void described as "a news desert." At the same time, according to a new Brookings Institution report titled Local Journalism in Crisis, "the reach of local news has diminished" as online readers pick from among "a greater number of national news sources and highly specialized outlets."
Another major analysis from a nonprofit group called PEN America found that as local journalism declines, "government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness and corporate malfeasance [wrongdoing] goes unchecked." Its lengthy, recently issued study, based on two years of work and titled Losing the News, says: "A vibrant, responsive democracy requires enlightened citizens, and without forceful local reporting they are kept in the dark. At a time when political polarization is increasing and fraudulent news is spreading, a shared fact-based discourse on the issues that most directly affect us is more essential and more elusive than ever." The executive director of PEN America, which promotes literature and free expression, describes the situation starkly: "This is a national crisis. This is not about a few isolated areas that are drying up," Suzanne Nossel says.
At the Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes: “What was terribly worrisome has tumbled into disaster." Here's how Brookings describes why this matters: "When important stories are not told, community members lack the information they need to participate in the political process and hold government and powerful private actors accountable." Remedies being tried include newspaper partnerships with nonprofit groups and financial support from foundations. Brookings suggests letting subscribers get a federal income tax deduction for the cost of newspaper delivery or online access. It also proposed a public fund for local journalism that would "provide grants to local newsrooms to experiment with new models and fund local reporting fellowships." Similarly, PEN America concludes that "given the scope and scale of the problem, a solution is unlikely without dramatically expanding public funding for local journalism."
Researcher says: "This is a serious public problem. Those who read, listen, and watch the news are not just consumers, but citizens that rely on news publishers to meet the demands of living in a democracy." – Clara Hendrickson, Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
PEN America says: "With the loss of local news, citizens are less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office."
Columnist says: "Local news sources . . . still are one of the ways that many communities maintain a sense of unity and shared facts." – Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post media columnist