Local news is in crisis. Newspapers are closing and other newsrooms are being gutted. In Denver, the loss of the Rocky Mountain News impacted local news coverage. That was compounded by layoffs at the Denver Post. A new report by PEN America takes a look at issues facing local news in cities like Denver and offers solutions for the creation of a sustainable local news eco-system.
Listen to the story below:
Viktorya Vilk with PEN America says that Denver was one of the case studies included in the report as what has happened here is a microcosm of what is happening nationally.
However, Vilk says recent threats to local journalism have resulted in “extraordinary Innovation and adaptation.” Vilk points out that outlets that once competed are now collaborating “there are phenomenal digital-native a nonprofit outlets cropping up across [Denver] and the state, public libraries are getting involved.”
But Vilk adds, “there are still open questions about the sustainability of some of these initiatives long-term and what happens when people have to go to a dozen sources to get their news and pay for several of those sources.”
The Losing the News report will be presented and discussed at a special event at the Denver Public Library on Tuesday, January 7th from 6 to 7.30pm. The event will feature local journalists and people involved in ways to create sustainable news sources in Colorado. For more, visit the Local News in Colorado: Big Picture Solutions event Facebook page.
One of the panelists, Melissa Milios Davis, Vice President for Strategic Communications and Informed Communities at the Gates Family Foundation, spoke with KGNU in advance of the event.
Listen to the interview with Melissa Davis below:
Davis echoed Vilk’s message about some of the positive outcomes of the threats to local news. “A lot of great things have been happening out of the crucible of crisis. There’s a lot of news outlets trying to step up and fill gaps. We’ve lost just about half of the journalists over the last ten, twelve years…so as a result journalists have had to get creative.”
Over the course of PEN America’s research, they discovered the increasing failure of the advertisement funding business model that sustained high-quality reporting for decades was behind the downfall of professional news outlets in communities large and small.
“As folks have gone to the internet increasingly to get their news and get there content, tech giants like Google and Facebook are now siphoning the majority of that ad revenue that use to sustain investigative reporting,” says Vilk.
When asked about funding alternatives news outlets can pursue Vilk said PEN American believes “a radical shift in how we think of local journalism” is needed, “from purely a commercial product that you buy and sell, to a public good, a service that is so vital to communities and to democracy that it deserves public protection and support.”
Davis says journalists are also becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their role in society. “Journalists are realizing their mission is foremost to serve the public, they always have, but now as the business model is changing I think that’s become even more crystal clear.”
Specifically, PEN America names reader/audience revenue, increased philanthropic funding as well as support from the state and the federal government as vital future sources of funding for quality journalism.
Vilk adds, as was the case with the dying advertising funding model, “any kind of public support mechanism is going to have to have very strong barriers between the source of funding and the editorial.”
When asked about the role the public can play in the response to the difficulties facing local news outlets, Melissa Davis of the Gates Family Foundation first encouraged media consumers to do what they can to stop the spread of misinformation by ensuring they source their news from credible sources, and she emphasized the need to financially support those local news sources. “I think people are realizing quality journalism costs money…and if we want this service to continue to be around in our communities we’re probable as individuals going to have to contribute in some way.”