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Saving local news, the driver of change and community

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Illustration by Greg Storey

September 16, 2021

With a $300 million fund, saving local news may just be possible.

Since 2004, nearly 20% of metro and community newspapers in the U.S. have merged or gone out of business. If you’re wondering how many people that number impacts, here’s a snippet from The National Trust For Local News site that puts it into perspective:

3 million people live in cities, towns and rural counties across the US with no local news coverage. These 1,300 communities have no local reporters telling their stories and keeping an eye on the issues most critical to their local democracy and quality of life.

The National Trust for Local News is behind the efforts to keep these remaining community-centric outlets alive. Spearheaded by Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, the non-profit calls local news an “impact investment:”

We believe local and community papers are drivers of local economies and local progress.

They bring attention to the policies and programs that support or hinder economic growth, the educational systems that shape the workforce, chronicle a community’s economic successes and challenges, and document and celebrate the stories and cultural resources that enrich and shape a community.

Small towns have access to national news—but who is covering the matters deeply important to them?

Local journalism promotes community as much as it promotes change. In college, I was the editor-in-chief of our student newspaper. We were the only campus news outlet and the only representation of our students, their achievements and the underlying issues at hand.

Sure, students had access to The Seattle Times and other reputable outlets reporting on Seattle-specific news—but without a student paper, there was no way to know what was happening in the community.

Student journalism is another conversation entirely, but the importance of local news—in any shape or form—can’t be overstated. It will be exciting to follow the progress and developments of The National Trust for Local news and see what kind of an impact they can make, and how they can grow.

Julie Bergman, a newspaper publisher, calls the need for a dependable local news “the big pumkpin theory.” And, well, it sums up the community aspect perfectly:

They can get their national information and their statewide information from many different sources. Who else is going to run the picture of the big pumpkin their neighbor grew that they can talk about over coffee? I’m not making fun of that! I think that’s an important kind of feature news that makes a person and people feel a part of a place. And that’s why I’m so bullish on community newspapers, whatever form or shape they take.

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