As a conservative, this is not the kind of thing I usually find myself saying, but the situation is dire and the consequences for our democracy are immense.
As a conservative, I’m not quick to invoke the term “market failure” as a justification for government intervention. But that’s exactly what the decline of local journalism requires. Local newspapers, the first line of democratic accountability for local government, are in free fall. The Youngstown Vindicator, the latest victim, just announced that it is closing, after 150 years of continuous operation in the Mahoning Valley of Ohio.
As the Pew Research Center recently reported, the number of newsroom employees at newspapers in the United States plummeted by 45 percent between 2008 and 2017. Closings and forced mergers of smaller newspapers are common (most recently the shotgun marriage between The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate). But Pew reports that even the top third have seen newsroom layoffs just since 2017. When a hostile takeover of Gannett (owner of 120 newspapers) loomed, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer expressed concern about their capacity to “create high-quality local journalism in their communities.”
This is a threat to democracy. But it’s an opportunity for public media. The time has come for a successor to the 1964 Carnegie Commission to reimagine the outdated Public Broadcasting Act and the role of government funding in the media. The goal should be not more funding but a major redirection, toward support of local journalism by freeing funds that currently go toward purposes that the private media market now provides.
Howard Husock is vice president for policy research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.
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