Local journalism faces uphill battle: Insights from Howard Homonoff


In a recent interview with Howard Homonoff, senior national advisor for the media and entertainment industry at Grant Thornton LLP and a weekly columnist for Forbes Magazine, E&P delved into the current state of local journalism. The conversation was sparked by Homonoff’s recent Forbes article titled “Presidential Debate In Focus But Local Journalism Battles For Its Life,” highlighting the severe challenges local journalism faced, including a long-term decline in newsroom employment and the emergence of “news desert” communities.

The decline of local journalism

Homonoff painted a stark picture of the local journalism landscape. He noted that newsroom employment has plummeted by 57% since 2004, and there are now 1,800 communities in the United States with no local news coverage at all. This decline has profound implications for democracy, as local news is essential for holding power accountable and keeping communities informed.

“Years and years of relentless pounding on the news business have left a mark,” Homonoff remarked. “Yet, there is still a remarkable level of energy, commitment and activity around local journalism.”

Promising efforts to save local journalism
Despite the grim statistics, there are glimmers of hope. Homonoff highlighted promising efforts by organizations like Lookout Santa Cruz and CherryRoad Media, who are producing high-quality local news and information content. These organizations represent innovative models that could potentially be replicated in other communities.

“Lookout Santa Cruz and CherryRoad Media are making strides in producing quality local news content,” Homonoff said. “Their efforts are crucial in this battle to sustain local journalism.”

Government support and skepticism
Government support is also a potential lifeline for local journalism. New York, for instance, has passed the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which provides tax credits for newspaper employee expenses for three years. This move offers financial relief and support to struggling local news organizations.

However, not everyone is convinced that government intervention is the answer. Some skeptics worry that such efforts might benefit only a small number of news organizations. Additionally, the concept of link taxes, which would require tech giants like Google and Facebook to pay for using news content, is seen by some as a potential “nightmare” for these companies.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” Homonoff explained. “Government support could help, but we must ensure it doesn't create more problems than it solves.”

The changing landscape and the need for innovation
Homonoff emphasized the need for innovation and flexibility in the local journalism business model. The traditional revenue streams of circulation and advertising are no longer sufficient. Instead, local news organizations must experiment with new strategies and revenue models.

“We are in a test-and-learn mode throughout the business,” Homonoff noted. “People have to be flexible and willing to try new approaches.”

One such innovative approach is demonstrated by Ken Doctor’s Lookout Santa Cruz, which targets markets with populations between 250,000 and a million people. In contrast, Jeremy Gubin of CherryRoad Media focuses on smaller markets by acquiring nearly 100 small Gannett papers. This diversity in strategies underscores the need for tailored solutions based on different markets' specific needs and characteristics.

“Not every market’s the same,” Homonoff asserted. “The level of engagement and the mix of revenue sources will vary.”

Advice for aspiring local journalists and entrepreneurs
For those considering entering the local journalism field, Homonoff offered sage advice: be prepared for uncertainty and be entrepreneurial. Success in this industry may require forging strategic relationships, seeking diverse revenue streams and being open to unconventional business models.

“Be an entrepreneur,” Homonoff advised. “This doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own company, but rather being open to a variety of strategic relationships that can put you in a position to succeed.”

Conclusion: A glimmer of hope amidst challenges
While local journalism faces significant challenges, the industry also exhibits a remarkable level of resilience and innovation. Journalists’ commitment, the emergence of new business models, and the potential for government support offer a glimmer of hope. As Homonoff said, “The product remains hugely popular, but the business model needs to adapt to a different world.”

In this era of rapid change and disruption, the future of local journalism will depend on the industry’s ability to innovate, adapt, and sustain itself in a new digital landscape.



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