This past week, over 1,000 journalists were laid off from major news organizations such as Buzzfeed, Gannett (owner of the USA Today network) and more as companies downsize with the decline of the industry, once again showing the United States does not value journalism and the fourth estate. Now more than ever, journalism needs support.
For more than a decade, the journalism industry has been evolving with the influx of new technology to grow readership and tell stories in complex, meaningful ways. This technology has also caused a crisis in the industry, creating a higher demand while crippling its funding model.
The model to give a couple articles free a month before requiring a subscription has done the opposite of what was intended and driven readership to the next publication until the limit runs out there too. The subscription model is no longer a viable way to sustain journalism. The other major revenue source — advertising — has decreased as more publications focus on their online product.
Journalism needs a new funding model. The quality articles usually sit behind a paywall while “fake news” spreads freely and openly for all to read, contributing to the epidemic of misinformation.
Giving out articles for free has led to a generation that does not value journalism enough to pay for it. They think the news is free, that it will just pop up on their social media and there isn’t a person behind the story who put in hours of work and deserves to be compensated. More than anything, this ideological shift has caused the destruction of local journalism — arguably the most important form of journalism.
The majority of the Gannett layoffs this week happened in local newsrooms, not national ones in the country’s biggest hubs. Local journalism keeps people with authority in a community or city accountable for their actions. It informs the people in these communities of actions that actually affect them. It also puts national decisions into a local perspective. This is more valuable to know than what the President tweets every day, yet local newsrooms are taking the brunt of the industry’s decline.
This also leads to journalism hubs being created in places such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, where people in big city bubbles attempt to connect with everyone in the country — a nearly impossible task. It is unlikely someone living and reporting from D.C. has the perspective and connections to tell someone living in Indiana how policy decisions will affect their lifestyle. That’s what local newsrooms are for.
The national hubs are important to holding the country’s leaders accountable and for bigger picture stories, and without them, who knows what would happen. But their demise starts with the destruction of local newsrooms.
The hubs are also outrageously expensive to expect journalists to live on the salary they are paid. The money invested into a Manhattan office could be better used placing branches of the newsroom in local communities — especially with today’s technology connecting the entire world in a flash.
We need to ask ourselves, “What does the world look like without journalism?” A free press is essential to the function of a democracy. Do we really want to see what America looks like without it? If we keep reading articles for free, don’t fix the funding model and move the majority of the operation away from the most expensive hubs, thousands of layoffs will become normal and journalism may cease do exist. Do we really want to see what that looks like?
Support journalism. Support local journalism. Support national journalism. Support student journalism. Support quality journalism. If we do that, we may be able to save democracy.
The Editorial Board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.