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The Survival of Local News Media is a ‘Race Against Time’

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Local news outlets are being used more than ever by people during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, these local outlets are struggling for financial survival and many are losing the battle.

For the past month, major news outlets such as The New York Times, Atlantic, The Hill, Fortune and others have been ringing the death knell of local news media.

On April 10, the New York Times reported that 33,000 journalists have either lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their pay cut since the virus hit the United States.

Local advertising dollars have evaporated, according to Andrew Alexander, an award-winning journalist, former Washington Bureau Chief for Cox Newspapers and a former ombudsman at the Washington Post.

Although subscriptions are up, print advertising has hit a steep decline and online advertising is far less lucrative for local news outlets. Besides, digital advertising is dominated by Google and Facebook, Alexander says. This dilemma leaves local news entities in the lurch. Money to produce a local news product is scarce.

Conor Morris is the Associate Editor of the Athens News in Athens, Ohio, which prints a hard copy once a week. He is a journalist in the trenches of the local journalism battle for survival in a small college town in Southeastern Ohio.

He says that his local newspaper is definitely feeling the advertising pinch. They do the best they can in producing news but can’t do nearly as much as they once did. His hours even have been cut back to just 30 hours a week.

He adds that his newspaper has even resorted to asking people who read their free online content to give a donation to keep the local news coming. Morris equates the online donations to a “tip-jar” in a retail establishment.

Alexander notes that researchers had found that even before the virus struck that we had over 1,300 “news deserts” across the country – locations that have little to no local news available. Now that number is growing rapidly.

Researchers have also found that the lack of local news has a devasting impact on civic engagement. People pay less attention to the functions of local and school governance and even vote at lower rates.

Although the future looks dim for the resuscitation of local news, Alexander and Morris look to the possibility of grant funding, some non-profit models and governmental assistance to keep this vital part of our democracy alive.