Free Press roundup: A ‘bloodbath’ of news layoffs but also impactful stories in 2023


As in the wider world, local journalism enters an uncertain new year after a brutal 2023. tallied the “bloodbath” of news layoffs last year, including at least 2,681 across an industry that’s already lost two-thirds of its newspaper newsroom jobs in the last 15 years.

The nonprofit cited a Challenger, Gray and Christmas report that found 20,324 job cuts in the broader media sector, more than the previous two years and the highest since 30,211 were lost at the pandemic’s onset.

Brier Dudley's SAVE THE FREE PRESS columns are made available for free to the public and to other newspapers for their use — to build awareness of the local journalism crisis and potential solutions. The entire body of work is viewable here:

“Seemingly no medium or business model within the news industry has gone untouched by the cuts, and the list of news organizations that have held layoffs includes everything from magazines to public radio stations, trade publications to cable networks,” Poynter’s Angela Fu wrote.

Many factors are at play, including ongoing disruption of the news business, rising operating costs and consumer spending pressures.

The spike in layoffs also follows the end of federal support during the pandemic years.

That was inevitable but provides one point of clarity: At relatively low cost, members of Congress can end the death spiral of a local-news industry that’s essential to informing and engaging their voters back home. This can be done easily with the bipartisan Community News and Small Business Support Act, which would provide temporary tax credits to save local newsroom jobs.

Meanwhile the pace of newspaper failures is accelerating, as Northwestern University’s Medill School reported in November, from two to 2.5 per week. It found 204 U.S. counties have no local news outlets left and 228 counties at high risk of becoming news deserts soon.

This adds to concern about how Americans will navigate the 2024 elections. Millions have no choice but to hunt for news online via social media, cable television and perhaps national newspapers, all of which emphasize partisan divides and provide little to no local context.

“It just feels as though it requires much more work to find and understand the main news events of any given day now — a hazy feeling, yes, but one people seem to express often,” New York Times Opinion writer Katherine Miller lamented in a Jan. 1 column on Trump and the splintered media ecosystem.

If only there was a way to have a concise bundle of important news and information, produced by local people who understand your community, delivered to your home every day.

Also at risk is a local news system that watches out for ordinary people and holds officials accountable, even in its diminished state.

“It’s easy to treat the media as a punching bag. But look to the nation’s local newsrooms,” Joseph Cranney, a New Orleans investigative reporter, wrote Monday on the social media site X. “For little money or recognition, reporters in 2023 stood up to power brokers who tried to bully them into silence, exposed corrupt officials and even saved lives.”

Cranney, who founded the Local Matters newsletter that compiles the week’s best local news stories, then posted “proof, from every state” — listing 50 impactful stories from 2023.

In Alabama,, the website that’s succeeded the state’s three largest newspapers, “exposed a jail where staff were accused of depriving a mentally ill man of his false teeth — letting him starve for days — and dumping him naked in an isolation unit, where he froze to death,” Cranney wrote.

In Alaska, Anchorage Daily News special projects editor Kyle Hopkins reported on how “police rarely criminally charge men accused of strangling women, despite the state’s public commitments … Two women were found dead at an ex-mayor’s property; no one charged,” he wrote.

The list goes on and is worth reading, especially for people who question whether local news is worth saving.

Time for reset: In an essay published by trade group Digital Content Next, University of Oregon journalism professor Damian Radcliffe writes that it’s time for publishers to “pause, take stock, and reset” their “volatile, often one-sided relationship” with Big Tech platforms.

“Media companies have been impacted by multiple developments over the past year, as platforms have progressively deprioritized news, canceled or reduced their news-related programs and products, or made the presence of news content on their platforms much less user-friendly,” Radcliffe wrote.

Among his suggestions are building direct relationships with audiences and recalibrating how success is measured, beyond metrics tracking clicks and views.

Not mentioned is securing fair compensation for their work from platform poachers. The New York Times is doing this with its lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft, and the rest of the newspaper industry should do this in 2024 with help from the proposed Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website,

Brier Dudley on Twitter: @BrierDudley is editor of The Seattle Times Save the Free Press Initiative. Its weekly newsletter: Reach him at


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