In January 2019, at the very start of this legislative session, the journalism industry experienced a painful wave of around 1,000 layoffs in both digital and print-focused outlets. In 2004, newsroom employment and print advertising were near peak levels but since then, the number of journalists employed by newspapers has been cut in half, and print advertising revenue has fallen to record low levels. Research at the University of North Carolina on the impact of these trends on local news, found a net loss since 2004 of almost 1,800 local newspapers – an unfortunate spike in an already deeply worrying trend that is leading to “media deserts” throughout the country. As local media outlets are increasingly owned by hedge fund media conglomerates with a history of shuttering or decimating newsrooms our ability to stay informed about what is happening in our communities is at risk. It is time to have a serious conversation about the viability of local journalism on which our democracy depends.
This session, Representative Ehrlich has filed a bill alongside State Senator Brendan Crighton to create a commission to examine a variety of questions concerning local journalism in Massachusetts, including the following considerations: including, but not limited to, the adequacy of press coverage of cities and towns, ratio of residents to media outlets, the history of local news in Massachusetts, print and digital business models for media outlets, the impact of social media on local news, strategies to improve local news access, public policy solutions to improve the sustainability of local press business models and private and nonprofit solutions, and identifying career pathways and existing or potential professional development opportunities for aspiring journalists in Massachusetts.
The stakes are high for our communities and our democracy, both of which depend on an informed citizenry.