Federal bill may alleviate local news woes
Local news is on the verge of extinction and it’s time to take action.
Many who remember print media not just as a dominant factor in American life but also a lucrative business, may be surprised to hear this. But more than half of the country’s journalist workforce has been slashed during the past two decades, along with about 2,100 newspapers – and more cuts are inevitable as things stand.
Here at Gazette 2.0, we like to think we’ve brought you meaningful news in the face of fierce headwinds. But really we’re just scratching the surface.
Important questions about how your local tax dollars are spent remain unasked. Decisions about your child’s education don’t always get the attention they deserve. Uplifting stories about ordinary residents doing extraordinary things in their community remain untold.
Research shows communities without local news sources tend to suffer from more government corruption, less social cohesion, more rabid partisanship and more torrents of misinformation. Surely we can all agree this isn’t appealing.
Driving journalism’s decline, the same internet that brought us craigslist and social media also snatched classified pages and family notices from the pages of local dailies and weeklies. Still more crippling, many of the businesses once eager to promote their branding in print would now rather see it mediated through a screen. While newspapers dabble in the world of online advertising, for all sorts of reasons it’s not nearly as profitable as print once was – especially for local outlets.
Perhaps all this doom-mongering about local news seems distasteful aired from the editorial page of a local newspaper, but who else is going to stick up for the industry’s battered remains?
Well, surprisingly enough, maybe the federal government: one of the many provisions in the Build Back Better package awaiting Senate approval is a tax credit system funding portions of local journalists’ salaries over the next few years. It’s an unusual proposal in the United States, where independence from government undergirds the entire concept of the press. But maybe it can work.
First, the apparent conflict mostly evaporates when you consider only local newsrooms qualify. Perhaps Washington correspondents at the New York Times or other large dailies would feel beholden to the government officials who they also report on, but local reporters tellingly rake the muck of local politicians. State and local officials will have no say in the credit allocations, and the text of the bill precludes news organizations with national audiences from benefiting.
This reasoning may not assuage all, but we see the same sort of tension in other governing bodies founded on principles of independence. Justices on the Supreme Court who weigh the legality of federal law are appointed and approved by those same lawmakers. Federal commissions and watchdogs are likewise responsible to monitor the government officials who employ them. It’s a delicate balance of trust and institutional structuring, but one that distinguishes America from totalitarian regimes.
Other revenue models have their problems, too. Papers may be tempted to steer wide of an ugly but necessary story involving a big advertiser under the traditional model. Likewise, non-profit newsrooms funded by foundation support may feel beholden to the interests of their sustainers. Even subscription models might encourage reporting that caters to the interests of a specific slice of the populace from where most donors are drawn.
At least if it’s funded by everybody’s tax dollars, everybody can claim a stake. And more reassuringly, the proposed funding represents less than 0.1% of the federal bill. It seems a small price to pay for the continuance of local reporting.
With or without the federal bill, we hope to keep serving you with the news you need as an informed and engaged citizen – but it’s a tough slog. And one that wouldn’t be possible without the generosity and gumption of our founder, carried over by our current owner, who keeps the machine running without taking a paycheck (she may edit this bit out). We also depend on a dedicated team of staff and contributors who do this work well below what their time and talents could offer them elsewhere on the market. We do this because local news matters.
If you’re reading this, you’re supporting local news, and for that we thank you. Please keep it up and stay alert for other ways to show your support.