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Local Journalism, a Link to Good Governance
Citizen engagement is at the core of good governance -- for more people to be engaged, they need to know what's going on.
Stories of the collapse of local journalism are well documented. In 2019, a Brookings report found that over 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper—or none at all. As local journalism disappears, citizens are less informed and more likely to be less engaged, having a negative impact on local governance.
In the digital age physical newspapers are unlikely to make a return. I recall growing-up the local Sunday newspaper being filled (over two inches thick) with advertisements and other inserts. Over time, that stack of ad revenue dwindled leaving the paper in a precarious position of how to operate. The trend is clear: as people went on-line, that’s where the ad-buys moved to.
In the digital age, should local journalism be considered a public good?
While there have been notable initiatives to reverse the trend, it might be too late. This week we take a look at the decline of local news and what this means for governance and civic engagement.
The Decline of Local Journalism
Some Programs Trying to Reverse the Trend
The Local Journalism Initiative: a proposal to protect and extend democracy Columbia Journalism Review
How this Affects Civic Engagement
Politics Podcast: What Happens When Local News Disappears FiveThirtyEight
CHART OF THE WEEK
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center looked at newspapers. They found the industry’s finances and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s, but their website audience traffic has again begun to grow. While web traffic is increasing, their analysis finds a decline in newspaper industry employment.
Key Findings of Pew Research:
Estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2020 was 24.3 million for weekday and 25.8 million for Sunday, each down 6% from the previous year (though with some caveats).
According to data from the BLS’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, 30,820 people worked in the newspaper industry in 2020 — down 12% from 2019 and 57% from 2004.
The total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2020 was $8.8 billion, based on the Center’s analysis of financial statements for publicly traded newspaper companies. This is down 29% from 2019.
Digital advertising accounted for 39% of newspaper advertising revenue in 2020, based on their analysis of publicly traded newspaper companies. The portion stood at 35% in 2019 – but at 17% in 2011, the first year it was possible to perform this analysis.
In the Digital Era, Journalism Should Be Considered a Public Good Center for International Governance
The Issue: Given that the devastation of local journalism will only continue, such a glaring market failure should compel government intervention.
More long-term efforts should focus on building public alternatives to failing commercial models and on ensuring that underserved communities — in particular, communities of colour — govern their own media institutions. The journalism crisis is an opportunity to not just decommercialize but democratize our news media.
Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and the author alone.
Editor’s Note: The e-mail version of this week’s digest had an incorrect link to the “Interesting Read,” it has been updated here on the website.