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Home Town Journalism Is In Peril; Why It Matters to the Nation

"The loss of local news coverage in much of the United States has frayed communities and left many Americans woefully uniformed ..." That's the subhead of a New York Times report yesterday, "How the Collapse of Local News Is Causing a National Crisis" .
 
Based largely on a just-released study by PEN America - a distinguished advocacy group for writers and free expression - Here's how The Times article framed the newspaper peril as a national crisis: "Since 2004, more than 1,800 local print outlets have shuttered in the United States, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper at all."
 
A summary of the PEN report, "Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and Search For Solutions"
 is quite telling:
 
"Local newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations are being bought and consolidated by hedge funds and media conglomerates and often subjected to relentless cost cutting -- leading to coverage that is more national, less diverse, and, in some cases, more politically polarized. Newspapers have been hit the hardest, losing $35 billion in ad revenue and 47 percent of newsroom staff in the past 15 years..."
 
 "A vibrant, responsive democracy requires enlightened citizens, and without forceful local reporting, they are kept in the dark... At a time when political polarization is increasing and fraudulent news is spreading, a shared fact-based discourse  on the issues that most directly affect Americans is more essential and more elusive than ever. Without reliable information on how tax dollars are spent, how federal policy affects local communities... how can citizens make informed choices about who should govern?"
 
Acknowledging the powerful socio-economic forces at work in contemporary journalism, "Losing the News ..." nevertheless presents potentially ameliorating conclusions such as: "Philanthropic
funding must expand dramatically to make a dent at the local level"; and "Legislators and regulators must ensure that technology companies fairly compensate local outlets for the journalism they produce..."
 
And then, perhaps channeling the report this week that Gannett has just become the largest newspaper company in America with some 260 dailies ranging in size from "small"to "big",  "Gannett, Now Largest U.S. Newspaper Chain, Targets Inefficiencies'"    
PEN included this among its key conclusions:

"The Federal Communications Commission must roll back recent decisions that enable media consolidations and cost cutting .


If you have any doubt that local news reporting is important, consider two very different reports this week:
 
"Probe Ordered Into Bias on Long Island" - this the result of a three-year Pulitzer-worthy investigative report by NEWSDAY on the decades-long widespread unequal treatment by real estate agents on Long Island.
 
But at the other extreme, this from The Times article:
 
"In Denver, a diminished  local news presence, ... a former journalist, turned City Council member, lamented the large number of people who seemed to be unaware of local elections, and the relative handful of reporters covering a quickly growing city. 'It feels like we could all be getting way with murder right now...'"
 
 
A final word from PEN chief executive Suzanne Nossel: "That first draft of history is not being written - it has completely disappeared. That's what is so chilling about this crisis."
 

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