By Dorothy York, President and CEO of North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS)
Americans are organizing, in the wake of the global pandemic, to help rescue local newspapers and support local journalism, to help keep our democracy strong, with excellent news reporting. Newspapers provide essential services, as do healthcare workers, teachers and firefighters.
Advantages of Local Newspapers:
1- The vast majority of readers surveyed have indicated that local newspapers are far more trustworthy than national cable TV news.
2-Most original news reporting comes from local newspapers and shows up in the feeds of Facebook, Twitter, in podcasts and on cable TV news.
3- Professional journalists report issues of national importance, such as exposing sex offenders, or corruption within government or in business, keeping powerful people in check.
4- Listings are provided, of local businesses that community newspapers support, including vital services such as food services and mental health clinics, during times of crisis, and beyond.
5- Information is included that is not available in major daily publications, such as local sports, local schools, local entertainment, local politics and so much more.
Many newspapers are in trouble. Dozens have closed since Covid 19 started. Who is killing newspapers?
1- Advertising has shifted to gatekeepers like Google and Facebook. This shift has caused subscription revenue to surpass advertising revenue at newspapers.
2- In the unregulated world of private equity, oligarchs are using pension funds to target and buy up assets to help make as high a profit margin as possible, for themselves and their investors. They don’t care if a business succeeds because they can sometimes profit more from chopping up the asset, and flipping it or bleeding it dry. They do this with a leveraged buyout (LBO), a financial maneuver, which allows them to buy a newspaper, load it up with the debt they incur to do so, which often bankrupts the company, even after, like the grim reaper, they sell off the assets, such as buildings, cut costs and lay people off. If the company goes bankrupt, the venture capitalists are not on the hook.
What is the risk of having fewer newspapers?
1- Politicians and corrupt government officials will survive and thrive, going unchecked by investigative reports.
2- Fewer journalists would be covering more beats, and fewer page will be filled, with less news to be reported, so readers will have a scarcity of quality news to to read.
3- Workers are protesting to get investors to take more of a stake in the success of the newspaper or to sell to someone who is more devoted to local news coverage.
4- Bots will take over the news gaps.
5- Fake news will be more prominent.
6- News reporting will be concentrated in the hands of fewer, more powerful providers, as more mergers and acquisitions consolidate entities.
How to help:
1- Support local newspapers with ads and subscriptions.
2- Allow some to operate as nonprofit organizations.
3- Fund some with tax relief dollars.
4- Help startups started by those downsized from newspapers, many of which are digital only, by showing them how to run a sustainable business and providing them with training and technology to do so. There is plenty of room for growth, considering all the communities that don’t currently have a local newspaper. Most counties in America have only one community newspaper.
5- Provide content to help fill news holes and special sections so ad space can be sold all around your relevant content, which will help draw attention to the ads, create more value and produce a higher ROI for advertisers.