Local news is rapidly disappearing

Bill calls for commission to find a way to save journalism

LOCAL JOURNALISM is in the midst of a slow-burning crisis, and it is long past time for the rest of us to take notice.

In the past 15 years, nearly one in five newspapers has disappeared and countless others have become shells of themselves. Those deeply diminished newsrooms, while still retaining dedicated journalists, are often hampered in the resources they can bring to bear to keep the community informed.

Expansive research from the University of North Carolina found a net loss since 2004 of almost 1,800 local newspapers. Across the country, media outlets are being shuttered and media jobs cut, with some of the highest profile cases involving shadowy hedge funds and holding companies that buy up pillars of community news to sell off their assets with little regard to how those losses hurt not only the availability of local news, but local democracy itself.

We can do better than merely observing. That is the reasoning behind the bill we filed – an act to establish a commission to study journalism in underserved communities. In this bill, a 17-member commission, comprised of diverse stakeholders in government and media, is tasked with charting a sustainable path forward for local journalism. The commission’s mandate, as written in the bill, is to “review all aspects of local journalism including, but not limited to, the adequacy of press coverage of cities and towns, ratio of residents to media outlets, the history of local news in Massachusetts, print and digital business models for media outlets, the impact of social media on local news, strategies to improve local news access, public policy solutions to improve the sustainability of local press business models and private and nonprofit solutions, and identifying career pathways and existing or potential professional development opportunities for aspiring journalists in Massachusetts.”

As with the start of any conversation, and as happens with every bill, we have already learned much about the state of local journalism from many interested parties. Some creative models already in practice include local stakeholder rescues, buybacks from national conglomerates, and experimental philanthropic nonprofits. These models and others emerging are all worthy of study and evaluation by academics, policymakers, and especially those in the field.

Everyone seems to agree that local journalism is in trouble, and it will take broad-based involvement to find a sustainable path forward for local media outlets of all shapes and sizes. As the session continues, this piece of legislation will be heard by committees and subject to much deliberation, which we believe will only serve to produce a better end product. We are looking forward to further discussion not only about who wants to be at the table, but also about the many ideas being considered in the journalism industry. The commission that will look at those ideas is still subject to change, potentially adding those who can help us see the full picture, or relieving disinterested parties of any obligation.

Meet the Author

Lori Ehrlich

State representative, Marblehead
Meet the Author
Our democracy relies on a free press with dedicated, talented, and diverse journalists. Local news outlets serve as anchors of our communities providing accountability and a common community narrative for readers, whether on paper or online. Without them, at a time when “fake news” is the mantra and facts are under attack, our communities will suffer. We are looking forward to working hard on this critical issue for the future of Massachusetts for the rest of this session, and invite anyone who is interested in preserving local news to join the conversation.

Lori Ehrlich is the state representative from Marblehead and Brendan Crighton is the state sentor from Lynn.