The Knight Foundation and the Gallup Organization are back with yet another dispiriting report about local journalism. Not only have local newspapers closed by the hundreds and remaining local newsrooms been hollowed out, but surviving news organizations, find Gallup surveys, are not trusted much more than their national counterparts and judged to be doing a poor job at a core responsibility: holding local governments accountable. Sixty percent of those polled feel that local media does a fair or poor job in this crucial regard.
It would seem to make for a perfect opportunity for public media, still among the country’s most trusted. But structural funding barriers pose a fundamental problem for local stations that want to do more to fill the local journalism void — and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s strategy to help with grants is actually misguided. Its core local journalism initiative — Regional Journalism Collaboratives — are based on priorities set by Washington, not localities.
The 1967 Public Broadcasting Act itself is part of the problem. Although Community Service Grants to local stations make up the vast majority of the $400-plus million distributed by CPB, far too much of those funds must be sent back to NPR and PBS, both by statute (in the case of NPR) and necessity: to purchase national programming and pay station dues.
Photo by Lamaip/iStock