When you don't watch the pot, it often boils over:
It’s a crisis that threatens American democracy. Local newspapers, despite all their flaws and limitations, have been a trusted — and necessary — source of information for citizens across the country.
When local news withers, bad things happen, studies show. People vote less, and they vote in a more politically polarized way. Political corruption has more opportunity to flourish, unnoticed by the local watchdog. And municipal costs may rise.
After being involved in local government for several years now, I don't subscribe to the view that governments would go crazy with unnecessary spending in the absence of a journalistic watchdog. Voters don't (necessarily) need to read about their property tax going up to notice it, it's right there on their monthly mortgage bill when the escrow goes up. Elected officials are aware of that when they crunch their budgets every year (or two). But those voters won't know "why" their property tax went up, or anything else about their local government, and that's a huge problem. Which is why I also don't subscribe to the view that local governments should withhold information, make it harder for journalists to cover their activities. If the newspaper gets it wrong, it's usually because some official thought it was "wise" to be tight-lipped. It rarely is. But there may be a philanthropic light at the end of this tunnel:
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced that it would double its investment in strengthening journalism to $300 million over five years, with a focus on building the future of local news and information, which are essential for democracy to function.
Knight called on individual and institutional funders to join in this opportunity to rebuild trust and foster sustainability in journalism, an essential democratic institution, starting on the local level.
Knight’s initial investments are in scalable organizations committed to serving communities at the local level — all of which are seeking additional support. These organizations are building new business models, strengthening investigative reporting, protecting press freedom, promoting news literacy, and connecting with audiences through civic engagement and technology.
“Without revenue, you can’t pay reporters. Without reporters, you can’t develop consistently reliable news reports about what’s happening in your town. Without that reliable news report, you can’t figure out how to run local government. It isn’t rocket science,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “We’re not funding one-offs. We’re helping to rebuild a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.”
Some 2,000 newspapers nationwide have folded in the last two decades, and business-oriented "solutions" to this crisis have either failed or accelerated their demise. Philanthropy has become the only viable mechanism to preserve local journalism (maybe all journalism), and should be included in everybody's annual charitable gift formula.
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