EDITORIAL: After layoffs, green shoots in local news

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It’s impossible to track the newspaper layoffs perpetrated in 2017 — we know McClatchy and Gannett have been trimming staff at its daily papers nationwide. A little closer to home, BH Media staffers felt the pains of consolidation between two city dailies, the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal.

On our own little band of the print-journalism spectrum, the Baltimore City Paper and Knoxville, Tenn.’s Mercury shut down this year, and two California altweeklies, Orange County’s OC Weekly and LA Weekly, suffered critical hits on staff. Even the granddaddy of all altweeklies, New York City’s Village Voice, ceased its print edition in 2017.

The reason for all of this is dollars, and they are easy to track. Of the $148.8 billion spent on advertising in 2017, print newspapers captured just 8.3 percent, with another 2.5 percent coming from online advertising at newspaper websites. Since 2011, overall newspaper advertising dollars have dropped $4.6 billion, most if not all of it going to digital.

And yet, Americans are consuming — and rely upon — quality journalism more than ever. In the Age of Trump, this is the great dilemma of our industry: Everybody needs to know what’s going on, but no one wants to pay for it.

Nowhere is the vacuum felt more profoundly than in local news. The dailies, now overseen largely by MBAs and marketers, continue to lay off staff, like starving men amputating their own body parts and consuming them to stay alive. And their efforts are just enough to keep smaller players from rising to the occasion.

The future of local news, though, is small and independent. And through the detritus of the newspaper massacre, which began in earnest in 2007, some green shoots are emerging. Nonprofits have taken up the cause where newspapers have failed. The laid-off Baltimore City Paper staff banded together to start the Baltimore Beat, a genuine print newspaper. And just this week longtime North Carolina journalist (and former TCB columnist) Kirk Ross has started the Orange County Citizen, a one-man operation begun, he says, to help him understand his hometown.

“What I want to do with The Orange County Citizen for now is post original stories and essays, curate the existing coverage of Orange County, add to the accessibility and transparency of public policy making and whatever other stuff makes sense,” he writes at the site, orangecountycitizen.com. “Feel free to follow along. It might get interesting.”

It doesn’t get more local and independent than that.

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