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News Technology

The Crisis in Local News (axios.com) 118

Sara Fischer, writing for Axios: The economic strains on local news have forced local outlets to close, shutter their print editions or consolidate into major holding groups, often headquartered in far-away cities. Why it matters: "As long as [cuts to local news] continues, the people in power will get away with murder," veteran NYC TV journalist Errol Louis told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday. Most recently, billionaire Joe Ricketts' decision to shut down local city coverage site DNAInfo and Gothamist in response to employees voting to unionize has called into question how local news outlets can survive through conflicting business interests of ownership. The cuts are the latest of local coverage setbacks this month. The Houston Press has effectively closed down; The Baltimore City Paper, a 40-year-old publication, published its last issue November 1. Local media continues to have a complicated relationship with technology, because while technology can be blamed for upended news economics, local media companies still rely on it for traffic and resources.
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The Crisis in Local News

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  • Unionize? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:24AM (#55505911) Homepage

    decision to shut down local city coverage site DNAInfo and Gothamist in response to employees voting to unionize

    I thought it was established the other day that the sites were being shutdown because they were losing money.
    https://news.slashdot.org/stor... [slashdot.org]

    • New narrative. Get with the program.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        They were losing money, but not enough that they could not continue to operate. The employees deciding to unionize ended that possibility.

        I wonder how how they feel about all those who told them that voting to unionize was in their best interest?

        • Yup, the moral to this story is...

          If they had not tried to unionize, they'd likely still all have jobs!!

          I mean geez, if you're not making money, the last thing you want to do is make it even MORE expensive to do business, right?

          Does no one exhibit common sense these days....?

          • People only care about how they can vote themselves money out of someone else's pocket.

          • by deesine ( 722173 )

            "Does no one exhibit common sense these days....?"

            While Trump is in office, don't expect much common sense from journalists.

        • Oh really, how much money do you have to lose before shutting it down at any time can make sense? All money lost was coming directly from the owner remember.

          Certainly the unionization was a factor, but only because he saw a lot more struggle ahead while also losing money, and it seemed like the bet on the previous merger had not paid off and was going to get worse, not better. At that point why throw good money after bad?

          If you want a real villain here I'd say the union leaders convincing all of the worke

    • Yes, exactly.

      "Billionaire basically keeps the lights on for money-losing ventures. Employees at the places feel they need more $$, billionaire decides he's not a money-sponge and decides to walk away" - would be better title.

    • by pots ( 5047349 )
      "It was decided?" From your link: "The decision has been widely regarded as a form of retaliation in response to the newsroom's vote last week to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East."
    • They were crappy clickbait sites, although I did visit gothamist daily for entertainment

      Most of the "stories" were summaries and links to original stories from real news organizations

      the click bait summaries were usually the police is bad, it's always the driver's fault for hitting someone, etc.

    • That's what the owners said, after they VERY abruptly shuttered the entire place without warning.

      If it was just a matter of losing money, (I would think) they would have had a much smoother and cleaner wind down process.

      But that's not what happened. This has a bad stink all over it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      decision to shut down local city coverage site DNAInfo and Gothamist in response to employees voting to unionize

      I thought it was established the other day that the sites were being shutdown because they were losing money.
      https://news.slashdot.org/stor... [slashdot.org]

      All I know is I watched Rachel Maddow the other day and she says I should be mad that I'm losing local news and to blame it on Trump. I might even start watching local news just to prove her right (but only during the MSNBC commercials)

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        I find my local news to be far less deranged than the national media. The national media seems bound and determined to give me a permanent case of depression. On any given subject, the national media is far more negative and hysterical. The national media also seems to intentionally attempt to create cognitive dissonance.

        Abusive advertising practices are posing as journalism.

    • Did the asshole owner make them do that? That’s a super common tax cheat thing.
  • We Need Local News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arzaboa ( 2804779 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:43AM (#55506061)

    Fifteen years ago our small town had a newspaper. There were newspaper boxes on every corner. Every person would at least see one headline a week that pertained to local news, because it was prominently shown through the newspaper boxes.

    Ten years ago, the online version of the local news had a comment section. The trolls took over, but as long as you didn't scroll down, you could stick to finding the news.

    Today, those newspapers are gone. National conglomerates have bought the small papers, and our now filled with USA Today style click bait. "This many people died this morning..."

    People now say that they get their local news from Facebook. At the same time, their feeds are filled with angry neighbors arguing with each other. These news hawk are having trouble sifting through the lost dog notices trying to find a local person that wrote "news."

    The current conversation revolves around making it easier to find news, all in one place where people can read it, where lost dogs are on page 7, and "real news" would be near the front.

    We aren't full circle, and its causing serious problems. The local community is fractured. Fluffy the dog has been found 3 times though, and grandma is really happy every time.

    --
    "That won't be easy" Jiminy Cricket

    • To echo another comment: Those are your local news failures, not something global. I'm looking at a copy of my town's newspaper as I write this.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      99% of local news is uninteresting bullshit, puff pieces and trivial nonsense that few people really care about. People used to read it because there wasn't much else, but these days we are not short of low grade crap to read.

      This is a general problem with news - we benefit greatly from some stuff being reported or investigated, but the bread-and-butter bullshit stories that used to bump up the page count to something acceptable don't bring in the sales any more.

      • You're right. The interest and the readership is just not there at the moment.

        That one headline that everyone saw every week had an impact. Its far from exciting news, but 52 times a year everyone at least got a hint at what was happening locally while sitting in their cars at the stoplight leaving their neighborhoods.

        If/when people take some responsibility for what they are ingesting, it would help the entire situation. I do see a few people kicking the thought around at least. I think we have years

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      Ten years ago, the online version of the local news had a comment section. The trolls took over, but as long as you didn't scroll down, you could stick to finding the news.

      Speaking of comment sections, I noticed very quickly when Disqus (aka Disgust) removed the sub-thread collapse widget. All the kooks hang their crap off of the firstest posts they can find, so usually the first thing I would do was collapse the first post and keep hitting the more posts button until finally the next thread appeared. Now it's not even worth hitting the more posts button, because I'll have to wade through the worst of the crap.

    • Today, those newspapers are gone. National conglomerates have bought the small papers

      Conglomerates small and large have been slurping up local papers for decades. Either yours was one of the rare ones that was actually independent rather than being owned by a conglomerate... Or you were one of the many people unaware that your local paper wasn't actually local.

      What's changed isn't ownership mostly, but "local" papers being treated more explicitly as what they've long been - franchises of a larger group.

      • I hear ya. Our was local until Gannett came in and bought them. Now its local news through the main conglomerate as you describe.

    • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

      All fair points. However the real problem is local people need to value their local news enough to pay for it in one way or another. When they do the news providers will come back.

      • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

        However the real problem is local people need to value their local news enough to pay for it in one way or another.

        And to do that, they need to value their local community enough to take part in it.

        Sadly, a lot of us have fallen into the trap of ignoring the things we can change on our own street, and paying attention to things we cannot change thousands of miles away.

        Hell, it's not uncommon to have no idea who your neighbors are anymore.

        • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

          However the real problem is local people need to value their local news enough to pay for it in one way or another.

          And to do that, they need to value their local community enough to take part in it.

          Sadly, a lot of us have fallen into the trap of ignoring the things we can change on our own street, and paying attention to things we cannot change thousands of miles away.

          Yup... and on that note don't forget to vote in your local elections today ;-) [assuming you are US citizen].

      • All fair points. However the real problem is local people need to value their local news enough to pay for it in one way or another. When they do the news providers will come back.

        I subscribed to our local paper for 20+ years. When it partially moved online, I signed up and started reading it online. Occasionally i would get involved in discussions related to stories, which generally weren't trolled too badly (at the time, anyway).

        But over ~ the final decade of my subscription, it seemed like we were gradually seeing less and less actual local reporting. Then, to save even more money, a few years ago the paper switched its commenting system so you couldn't participate unless you had

    • I don't know about you, but my neighborhood has its own newspaper [bridgeportnews.net]. I think it's fairly common in the larger cities.

      It's only printed once a week and typically contains content about the local churches and religious schools, but it does cover neighborhood news and events. The local alderman writes a column every couple of weeks.

      Don't most small towns have their own newspapers? I grew up in a small midwest farm town and we had one.

    • National conglomerates have bought the small papers, and our now filled with USA Today style click bait. "This many people died this morning..."

      This secret personal trainers hate!
      It's actually so bad that I've given up buying or reading any paper or news site produced in my own country. This lack of reliable local information can only be bad for the community overall.

  • The news business has been morphing into entertainment business for a few decades now. Check out any newspaper or TV news show, and you will notice that it's only news if it is entertaining, one way or the other. Telling what really happens is, at best, a secondary endeavor - in some cases, as in Fox News, not even that.
  • By coincidence... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:46AM (#55506085)

    My dad emailed a link today about how the Guardian is protected from "outside influence" by a trust fund [wikipedia.org] that was set up back in the 1930s. I'd be curious to hear what others think about this setup, and how well it has succeeded in that goal.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:49AM (#55506103)

    Just as today is voting day in the United stated. Being that it is an off year election only the local officials are running. However the local officials are the ones who will directly control your quality of life and the community, yet we don’t go out and masses and vote for them. Then we get supposed that a million dollars is wasted and the officials just go off unpunished because voting is so low for their positions and local news is so scarce that they can get away with it.

    We can live with an idiot baby as president, but we need an adult who is mayor and town clerk. Otherwise we get real problems.

  • The Media Monopoly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Seven Spirals ( 4924941 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @11:50AM (#55506115)
    Check out "The Media Monopoly" by Ben Bagdikian as a primer on all things media-consolidation. He dives into the detail of how and why it happened. Back in Victorian times, there were 4-5 newspapers even in small towns. Right now, communications technology favors centralized syndication because it's much cheaper than having a news room staff in every town. Americans are often just as interested in "big" national stories vis-a-vis small local ones. So, after reading his book (and it's updated editions) it's pretty clear that there is equal blame on both news consumers and news producers. However, I also think it has something to do with the perception that journalism is just a tool for propaganda these days. Journalism has taken a hit in perceived trust on all fronts by all consumers. Perhaps it's because of the corporatism at work in most news organizations, or maybe it's also the fact that every journalist I've ever met (personally) has been an ignorant tool just chasing "trends" not news.
    • by nnet ( 20306 )
      vis-a-vis != versus, which is what you meant. But otherwise well stated.
    • The consolidation economy is starting to find breaking points. People are finding it hard to find anything worth reading, and the things worth reading are packed in between a whole lot of useless stuff. We used to have multiple papers competing, but they lost all of their ad revenue to the online world, everyone bailed until there was nothing left. People do want their information, but right now so many don't trust anything.

      You touch on an interesting point regarding propaganda. We've got an entire se

    • However, I also think it has something to do with the perception that journalism is just a tool for propaganda these days. Journalism has taken a hit in perceived trust on all fronts by all consumers.

      "Journalism" has always been about propaganda. That's why there were multiple papers - one for Democrats, one for Republicans, one for businessmen, one for the "wrong" side of the tracks, etc... etc...

      The idea that "journalists" were some kind of impartial arbiter of truth came about in the 50's as new

    • Journalism has taken a hit in perceived trust on all fronts by all consumers.

      Growing up I was taught that you needed confirmation from three independent sources before you could publish a story. Now you have stories being printed based on unverified anonymous sources.

    • or maybe it's also the fact that every journalist I've ever met (personally) has been an ignorant tool just chasing "trends" not news.

      Because most of what passes for 'journalism' isn't really. Things like being objective, balanced, citing references, avoid conflicts of interest etc all go out the window in a modern media organisation. They do still exist, they're just getting rarer and rarer as media organisations race to the bottom in desperation for clicks.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My 90-year old mother pays a dollar a day for her local newspaper that's so thin, you can't even wrap fish in it. The local news content is pitiful. Since electronic media is very inexpensive, and a lot of people enjoy hobbies, they should organize to do their own local news as a service to their community. There are a lot of financially secure senior citizens who could cover the day shift when others are at work, clicking cellphone pics to embellish the narrative. You have to admit that writing a news

  • The news media has been in a long downward spiral of consolidation and/or bankruptcies since about 1980 which coincides with the birth of both CNN and the age of a zillion cable channels. Prior to then, the limited media available (only major networks, radio and print) kept traditional advertising at the top of the heap for revenue generation. Networks and local papers saw news gathering as a quasi independent, money losing necessary evil. Networks had to be viewed as somewhat neutral in news to attract viewers and advertisers. In cities with more than one paper, the papers tended to take particular editorial positions but they still had to be viewed as accurate. Cable started taking viewers and ad dollars from the major networks and after the internet further messed up the advertising model channels like CNN and Fox discovered that ad revenue grew and they made more money by biasing their coverage (and their accuracy) to pander to their viewership. In the meantime daily rags were losing their shirts. The lack of readership killed ad revenues major mergers started happening everywhere. Most cities were whittled down to one major daily and the battling editorial positions were gone. At the same time USA Today showed papers that a lot of readers were happy without local news and loads of papers became localized versions of a national paper. Now the paper only needed a handful of employees or just contract reporters for local news with everything else (layout, production, website, delivery, billing etc) handled by the national organization. We have no independent mainstream media left in the US. Every story that comes out of every organization has a primary focus of revenue generation.
  • ... so the smaller and quicker are eating the bigger and slower ...

    I'll point out that Benjamin Franklin (the guy on the $100 bill) made a very good living as a publisher back in the day. The point? As a writer/publisher looking to make a living he needed to know his audience and publish what people wanted to read/were willing to pay for (e.g. people loved almanac's so he created/published "poor richard's almanac"). I'll also point out that he never got much bigger than a 1 man operation

    the problem's fac

  • If only we could bring these mandates to the internet.

  • Once local news actually holds those in power accountable, then maybe I will shed a tear. But the reality is, the local news are obsessed with man bites dog stories, finding "local angles" to national stories and frankly are in the pocket of the local political power brokers. So I see no loss here. Barstool sports has broken more scandals lately in MA than the local news.

  • Most localities have their own Facebook page, and we've been hearing for the past year that FB is where people get all their news.
    • Our local Facebook page where our citizens claim to get their news, is more like a daily talk show, full of gossip and lost puppies.

      --
      "No Branch" - Poppi, Trolls

  • Sarah never mentioned that DNAinfo was unprofitable, relying on Joe Ricketts' continued funding, and unionized over his objections. [realitydispatch.com] To read her post, it sounds like he is obligated to continue investing in employees who knowingly go against his wishes.

    I'm not seeing that as the real world; you can't force someone to keep giving you money unless you're the government.

    • you can't force someone to keep giving you money unless you're the government.

      Even then not always.

  • We used to get the Sunday edition of our local paper. We only have time to read the news on Sunday anyways, and it was, basically, a huge, week-end news wrap-up issue. I think it cost $10 a month. We were perfectly happy paying for it.

    Then they got rid of that plan, and replaced it with three issues a week plus access to the useless "deluxe digital edition" for $30 a month. We cancelled our subscription.

    Even though half of the newspaper's volume is eaten up by sports that I don't care about, I'd be perfectl

  • Local media killed it'self. They were every bit as biased as the national journalists that are now in their death throes, but on local issues, it was far more apparent and repulsive. Our local paper died 15 years ago and no one gave a shit.

    With local Facebook groups and apps like Nextdoor, citizen journalists are far more empowered than ever to keep local government accountable, and it is far more difficult for local politicians to corrupt this kind of democratized journalism.

  • if you make $1 million/yr. If you do this is BAU/functioning as designed.
  • No crisis here ... merely the culmination of 25 years of technological and social change finally overwhelming an industry that couldnt or wouldnt change its business model.

    newspapers, meet reddit

  • From the article: "The economic strains on local news have forced local outlets to close, shutter their print editions or consolidate into major holding groups, often headquartered in far-away cities."

    I'm looking forward to the folding of the local paper. Once strong and independent, it is now controlled by a major holding group (using the article's terminology) and has devolved into pointless, useless identity politics.

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