Local news is in crisis and under siege, according to the latest report from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago. Since 2005, daily newspapers in the United States have decreased by almost 250, down to 1,213 at last count. It’s even worse for weeklies, fortnightlies and monthlies, which dropped from 7,419 in 2005 down to 4,792 this year.
There are fewer reporters covering local government, cops and courts, culture, business, healthcare and other essential beats. And it’s all happened at a glacial pace, so slowly that many haven’t even noticed that they aren’t as well informed as they were 20 years ago.
Ask yourself: Where do you get your news now? And do you know what ward or district you live in, who your reps are at the city, county and state level?
Here in the Triad, we can see it with our eyes. The Greensboro News & Record, charged with covering the third-largest city in the state, is a ghost of its former self, with a newsroom decimated by perhaps 80 percent since I used to haunt their downtown offices 20 years ago. Similarly, the Winston-Salem Journal, in the state’s fifth-largest city,has a fraction of the reporting staff it held before Warren Buffet bought both papers and swiped the literal land out from under them and sold the whole pile to Lee Enterprises in 2020.
From its headquarters in Davenport, Iowa, Lee owns 77 US newspapers. In June, it moved most of its dailies down to three days a week, part of their business plan, which is more about extraction and diminishing returns than it is about answering the local news crisis.
It’s not entirely their fault. As Report for America discovered in a 2022 report, today’s news outlets are operating under a broken business model — none of us can sell enough advertising to finance the news reporting that our audiences deserve.
RFA’s solution was a Community News Fund, which would collect donations from stakeholders and distribute them equitably among truly local players. It’s already working in cities across the nation, and we’re hoping to generate interest for one here. I believe we’re getting there, an inch at a time.
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