It’s common knowledge that local print journalism is endangered in today’s media landscape, and the numbers show it. Between 2008 and 2018, newsroom employment fell by 25%, a study by Pew Research Center shows. Widespread consumption of news is of course still occurring, but largely through different media. While print journalism has been declining since the introduction of broadcast news, the proliferation of online news has resulted in an 82% increase in digital-native newsroom employees between 2008 and 2018.
It is significant that print news, and especially local print news, is in sharp decline, as it results in unique consequences for rural and/or underserved communities. Circulation of smaller newspapers has been dropping more rapidly than that of larger, national newspapers. Warren Buffett said earlier this year he thinks midsize and small papers will cease to exist, while the likes of national outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal will thrive. So it’s time to start thinking of innovative solutions to bolster local journalism, otherwise we risk leaving smaller communities without updates on local politics and other vital news specific to their neighborhoods, not to mention local journalism is often a bedrock of accountability from the private to public sector. One idea that has been gaining traction is to boost local reporting through government funding.
New Jersey residents have been pushing for their state government to do just this. In 2018, a bill establishing a non-profit organization called The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium was created with the goal of providing funding for local journalism that uplifts voices in underserved New Jersey communities. Governor Phil Murphy committed to fully funding the organization, although advocacy organization Free Press Action noted that they were not able to secure any funding until a year later. In the same article, FPA’s News Voices Director Mike Rispoli emphasized the importance of local news in boosting civic participation and holding local governments accountable (for instance, by tracking the spending of tax dollars).
Leadership Connect spoke to a representative at Free Press Action about the organization’s future plans regarding the Civic Information Consortium. They said that:
In New Jersey, we are committed to working with our local partners to support the establishment of the Civic Information Consortium, and help it work with the public to ensure that its funding priorities are rooted in the needs of local communities.
Additionally, the representative emphasized that in the future, Free Press Action will engage with efforts to support local journalism in other states. Regardless of whether the organization leads a campaign to push through legislation in other states as it did in New Jersey, they will be able to share what they learned while they were pushing the Civic Information Consortium and will provide support to “those fighting locally for informed and engaged communities.”
Apart from local governments funding journalism in their communities, the idea of implementing federal funding for journalism has also been discussed as an option among media and government professionals. Stay tuned for our discussion of efforts to fund journalism on a federal level and the process that would enable this to occur.
We have also reached out to the staff of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang for comment. He has a plan to get the Federal Communications Commission involved in funding local journalism.