As newsrooms shut down across the country, good governance takes a hit and partisanship worsens. It's more important than ever to find ways to preserve local journalism.
This summer, the Capital Gazette, the Annapolis, Md., newspaper founded in 1727 that was among the first publishers of the Declaration of Independence, became a newspaper without a newsroom. Parent company Tribune Publishing's cost-cutting in the wake of COVID-19 permanently shuttered offices that had reopened barely a year after a gunman opened fire there, killing five staffers; even a resulting Pulitzer Prize couldn't keep the lights on. The Capital Gazette joined five other Tribune outlets in closing their offices at least temporarily, sending their employees to work from home.
Other papers have suffered even worse fates. Over the past 15 years across America, some 2,100 of them have closed down for good. The majority of counties are now served at most by a single newspaper, and many surviving outlets are little more than "ghost papers." Meanwhile, one in five newsroom employees live in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., reflecting a troubling nationalization and consolidation of news. And it's not only print: Just five companies now own nearly 40 percent of broadcast TV stations nationwide.
No one has come up with a perfect solution for the preservation of independent local news in some form, but the need is more urgent than ever. A slow-moving financial crisis in journalism is now gaining speed with today's pandemic-fueled recession, and the costs are mounting, not just to local news but to local democracy. Recent studies suggest that nearly any measure of governance is negatively affected by the decline of local journalism.
Photo by Fedor Kozyr/iStock