Dec 2, 2019 - Economy

The race to fill local newsrooms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Efforts to fill local newsrooms are ramping up as the industry continues to face rapid cuts, consolidation and closures.

Why it matters: The death of local news in America is routinely cited as one of the country's biggest threats to democracy. With fewer opportunities in local journalism and less job security at the local level, finding talent to fill local newsrooms has become a center of focus.

Driving the news: Report for America, an organization that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms, said Monday that it's on pace to place 250 journalists in 164 local newsrooms in 2020.

  • The group's announcement marks one of the largest single-day hiring announcements for journalists at the local level. It says that this commitment is more than four times the size of its 2019 class.
  • Many of the journalists will be assigned to beats that have withered with the local news crisis, like local government, veterans issues, military bases and housing.
  • AP and Report for America announced last week as a part of this initiative that it would place 14 reporters in state legislatures across the country.

Other groups are investing record amounts of money into local news. In total, about $1 billion has been committed to solving the local news problem over the next few years.

  • The Knight Foundation said in February that it's committed $300 million into reshaping local news. Over the summer, it announced two projects from that investment, one for $50 million and one for $6 million, both focused on researching ways that tech and tech policy impacts the news businesses, including local news.
  • McClatchy launched The Compass Experiment earlier this year, with financial backing from Google, to develop new business models and launch new outlets in underserved news communities. McClatchy plans to put journalists on the ground in these communities.
  • ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, says it is committed to funding more local news investigations specifically in 2020. It's looking to pay the salaries and a benefits allowance for reporters at six partner news organizations "who will each spend one year tackling an investigative project that is important to their communities."
  • Google, Facebook, Automattic and other tech giants have collectively pledged hundreds of millions of dollars into local news programs over the next few years.

Yes, but: Efforts to support local news by billionaire philanthropists have mostly faltered. Instead, most big backers have invested in resurrecting national media outlets, like Laurene Powell Jobs and The Atlantic, Marc Benioff and Time magazine, and Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post.

  • The notable exception has been Craig Newmark, the founder of CraigsList, who has donated over $80 million to journalism causes in the past few years, with many efforts focusing specifically on local journalism.

The big picture: Large newspaper chains, facing economic strife, are consolidating and laying off thousands of journalists as an effort to stay in business. The recently approved merger between GateHouse and Gannett alone is expected to cut about 2,500 local news jobs, although not all of those jobs will be in editorial.

What's next: While Americans mostly agree that something should be done to address the demise of local news and local news jobs, the population differs on how to address the problem based on their party identification. Until there's a consensus on how to address the problem as a society, expect individual efforts to persist.

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