USA Today has an ironic editorial that starts with frenetic back-self-patting:
Did you hear about the rape – and subsequent arrest in the case – of a 10-year old Ohio girl?
Did you see the stunning failure of police – who ran away as children were being killed – in the hallway of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas?
What about the harrowing details of Jayland Walker’s death in Akron, Ohio, where officers fired 90 or more rounds at the 25-year-old Black man?
Do you know why you’re aware of these stories?
Local journalists. Men and women who live and work in the communities they cover.
In each of these cases, those journalists are part of the USA TODAY Network, a family of more than 200 newspapers in 45 states committed to covering their communities. They are among scores of journalists in every state, at companies big and small, profit and not-for-profit, covering local news for their communities.
They’re also somewhat of an endangered species.
Nearly half of all U.S. counties have only one newspaper, reports the News Media Alliance, which advocates for the media industry. Since 2005, according to a new report from Northwestern University, “the country has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers (2,500) and is on track to lose a third by 2025.”
The pandemic, which devastated so much, was not kind to the industry, leading to job losses and the closure of local media outlets, according to Columbia Journalism Review.
The financial struggles of news organizations focused on local and regional coverage, including broadcast as well as newspaper journalism, stem from the sweeping shift of readership, viewers and advertising to online platforms, and a subsequent dramatic reduction in the revenue that has supported local reporting.
Even if – and perhaps especially if – you are skeptical of the news media, this is a devastating trend.
In all regions of the country, Americans need a local free press that produces vigorous and independent journalism for all – and Congress can help. This week, movement is expected on a bipartisan bill called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). It could pave the way for local publishers to reap the revenue they deserve from the content their journalists create.
Also called the JCPA or Safe Harbor Bill, it would provide a four-year antitrust exemption that would allow small and local news organizations to work together to negotiate an agreement with Google and Facebook on fair compensation.
“Strong local news helps us understand those whose experiences and attitudes are different from us, and, in the process, brings us together to solve our most pressing political, economic and social problems,” the Northwestern study says. “It binds our vast nation of 330 million people together, nurturing both democracy and community. Everyone in the country has a stake in the future of local news, in whatever form it is delivered.”
Congress must be prompted to finally act on this bipartisan proposal to help stop the hemorrhage in local newsrooms and provide tools for long-term stability. America’s democracy depends on it.
On the one hand, few Republicans are fans of Big Tech, which is why this bill has so many Republican cosponsors, including Reps. Glenn Grothman (R–West Bend) and Tom Tiffany (R–Ashland) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Kentucky).
However, few Republicans are also fans of Big Media, and no one in Wisconsin should be a fan of Gannett, which puts out horrible daily newspapers. (That is unless you like regurgitated USA Today content and hardly anything that counts as “local” news or sports anymore.) The argument could be made that media owners like Gannett have contributed mightily to the news media’s business problems.
To the majority of media consumers this probably seems like inside baseball anyway. Better arguments need to be made to generate support for this bill.