The decline of local news is a well-documented phenomenon. But its collapse may be worse than we think, Steve Waldman writes. “Since 2004, the number of newspaper newsroom staff per 100,000 people—a measure we might call ‘coverage density’—has dropped by a staggering 62 percent.” In 2000, he adds, the average local reporter “covered 3.8 different units of government. In 2020, each reporter covered 10 units of government.” And all sorts of bad information has filled the vacuum. So how do we move forward as an industry?
“Our goal should be to create a better local news system than we had in the past, including far better service for communities of color and for rural areas,” Waldman writes. “To make that local news system a reality, I believe that we need to add 50,000 local reporters.” It may seem impossible, but Waldman assures that “the elements of a strategy have presented themselves.” The answer may lie in a combination of a business model that incentivizes subscriptions, vastly increased philanthropic funding, government funding, and locally owned newsrooms. “Within these four buckets, there are a number of different tactics that can get us where we need to be,” he writes. “If we make progress on all four, we can double the number of local reporters and save democracy.” ––Savannah Jacobson, story editor
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