The numbers are staggering. As the U.S. population grows, the number of local newsroom employees continues to decline, as an average of two newspapers shut down each week. Moreover, research shows that a shortage of local news harms the very fabric of our communities. With less new coverage comes more government corruption and local apathy regarding voting or civic involvement.
And today, with large corporations and hedge funds who now own what was once vibrant family-owned local news operations and seek more profit by gutting newsrooms, less and less local reporting is taking place. This has created "ghost newspapers" that generate only a handful of stories each week that serve the common good.
Over the past few years, some controversial bills have been introduced into Congress to tap into the large amount of locally available ad revenue that has been gobbled up by "big tech." Historically, that revenue was used to help fund local newsrooms. One of the bills that did not gain complete industry support was the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act" (JCPA), which, if passed, would give news publishers the ability to collectively negotiate with “big tech” platforms for content compensation. Other bills, like the Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), were floated to offer tax credits to help fund news operations.
Some have said that the challenge facing our industry's advocacy has been our lack of ability to work with one common "voice," with different media associations working separately with other priorities and agendas.
Today with the core mission of helping to advance public policies to counter the collapse of local news, revitalize community journalism and strengthen democracy, the Rebuild Local News Coalition (RLN) was started by Steven Waldman, who initially incubated the GroundTruth Project and Report for America. A recent RLN press release that announced the organization’s gaining non-profit status lists members that include the Institute for Nonprofit News, the Local Media Consortium (LMC), the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), the National Association of Hispanic Publishers and the Local Independent Online News Association (LION). The News Guild-CWA, one of the largest news labor unions in the country, is also part of the coalition.
When asked why large, established industry lobbying and advocacy organizations like the News/Media Alliance (NMA), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and America’s Newspapers were notably absent from the list, Waldman responded that the coalition wished to maintain a more local focus when it came to member news media organizations. And even though these groups were not listed members of the RLN, they have and will coordinate with them when it is warranted.
The RLN has reportedly raised close to $1-million dollars in philanthropic donations from Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and Microsoft Corporation.
In this 172nd episode of "E&P Reports," we go one-on-one with Steven Waldman, co-founder of Report for America and chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, an alliance of local news organizations that has recently become an independent nonprofit planning to advance a range of public policies addressing the accelerating crisis in local news threatening so many communities. E&P Publisher Mike Blinder asks Waldman why the new coalition is necessary and what its priorities are, what initiatives they are championing and how they can help move public policies along on a state and national level, including payroll tax credits, proposals to target government advertising spending toward local news instead of social media and reducing the influence of hedge funds on local newspapers.
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