Local News as Democracy’s Civic Infrastructure
The Honorable Charles Schumer, U.S. Senator
The Honorable Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senator
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Representative
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Representative
May 26, 2021
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Republican Leader McConnell, Madam Speaker and Republican Leader McCarthy:
Local news is a pillar of democracy’s civic infrastructure — and it is crumbling.
During the past two decades, the number of newspaper reporters has dropped by 36,000 or 60%. Some 1,800 communities have lost newspapers. News deserts and “ghost newspapers” — newsrooms so desolate that they don’t truly cover the town — abound across the country, especially in rural areas and communities of color. The vacuums are being filled by social media, partisan hyperbole, and harmful disinformation.
Academic studies have shown that weaker local news systems lead to more corruption, lower voting turnout,more polarization, and more alienation from the community. It is very difficult for residents to solve their community’s problems — from economic development to criminal justice — without having accurate information and some fair-minded understanding of their neighbors. This hurts all communities, regardless of their politics.
Furthermore, since the federal government is likely to spend significant sums on public works projects, objective oversight is a must. It starts with local journalism, with watchdog reporters working to ensure tax dollars are spent as intended and equitably. Many studies have shown that fewer reporters in communities will mean more waste.
Therefore, the undersigned groups urge you to include support for America’s community newsrooms in the infrastructure bill. These organizations represent more than 3,000 newsrooms, funders of local journalism, and civil society organizations advocating for a healthy free press.
We are aware that government assistance to the news media can be inappropriate or even harmful if done the wrong way. But the crisis in local news has become so severe we believe urgent action is necessary — and can, indeed, be done in a content-neutral, nonpartisan way, minimizing the risk of government favoritism or interference.
This would not be the first time public policy has assisted journalism: the Founding Fathers provided content-neutral support to newspapers, through the Postal Service, because they viewed it as essential infrastructure for a healthy republic.
As we discuss public policy solutions, it’s worth remembering that the golden age of local journalism was not golden for many marginalized communities. We now have a rare opportunity to strengthen all communities by building a more robust, more inclusive local news system for decades to come.
The infrastructure bill is called the “American Jobs Plan.” Supporting local news preserves jobs, to be sure. But it is more than that, as it will also help local communities thrive and democracy endure. We urge you to include measures in the infrastructure bill that reinvigorate local news.
National Newspaper Association
Local Independent Online News Publishers
Institute for Nonprofit News
National Association of Hispanic Publications
National Newspaper Publishers Association
The NewsGuild / CWA
Local Media Consortium
National Federation of Community Broadcasters
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Report for America/The GroundTruth Project
American Journalism Project
Solutions Journalism Network
Lenfest Institute for Journalism
Free Press Action
News Literacy Project
Journalism Funding Partners