By editorial board • 

Local news in jeopardy across U.S.

One of the many storylines emerging from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, will be a reduction in community journalism throughout the American landscape. 

That’s not a new storyline. Local newspapers have faced numerous crushing financial hits, including Craigslist’s devastation of classified ad revenue, the havoc of the Great Recession and the success of Facebook, Google and similar sites in snatching away local advertising dollars by the billions.

Some newspapers have collapsed. Others have hung on, but most have been wrapped into consolidations that leave independent, locally-owned community newspapers something of a dinosaur.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, which has shut down entire sectors all across the economy, is just the latest hurdle. But it’s going to prove an obstacle too high to surmount for many papers.

Many metro alternative weeklies, including the Portland Mercury and Seattle Stranger, have been forced into online only. That’s because their revenue and distribution both rely heavily on the restaurant/bar/nightlife sector, now utterly dormant. But the peril continues to extend well beyond those reliant on food, drink and entertainment ad dollars.

Staff reductions are occurring across the board, from metro dailies to small community operations. The latest round has been spurred, of course, by the coronavirus.

Some won’t make it. As a result, there will need to be greater focus on what local journalism means in the future, because its loss would be devastating to democracy. 

In recent years, the term “news desert” has been created to describe areas where residents have no access to reliable local news. Without local news, study after study has shown, people become less civically engaged and thus less likely to vote.

Furthermore, the demise of area newspapers in some areas has been directly linked to rises in local corruption and polarization, not to mention a lost sense of community.

Compared to countries around the world, America rarely favors public spending for journalism.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, our federal government allocates about $1.35 per person per year for public broadcasting.

Japan spends more than $40, the United Kingdom about $100 and Norway $176. In those places, news and information are considered a public or merit good, up there with health care and education.

In the name of democracy, the U.S. may have to reconsider public funding in this area.

Current messages from publishers to readers are reinforcing the value of their product, while being candid about the immediate need for greater subscription revenue if operations are to continue.

Obviously, we encourage all to take heed. If you already subscribe, see if you can recruit a friend or neighbor.