Local news is a public good essential to a healthy, inclusive, and multiracial democracy. Yet the last two decades have seen a dramatic loss in local newsrooms due to technological and economic shifts in the for-profit business model.
Whether in towns that recently lost a newspaper, or places that were never well-served by local media, researchers have chronicled a toll to democracy itself. Communities with less local news experienced increased polarization, more government corruption, fewer people running for office, fewer attending public meetings on community issues, a declining sense of belonging, and a decline in rates of voting.
People need information to participate in civic life, to figure out who to vote for, how to speak up at school board meetings, how to run for local office, where to find vaccines, when to organize for change, and more. From daily reporting that equips people to act, to investigations that reveal corruption, to stories that connect us to our neighbors, the health of local news is directly linked to the health of our democracy.
In 2022, a team of local news leaders, philanthropists, and local news support organizations committed to the development of a process to create a set of recommendations – a “roadmap” – to revitalize and reimagine the local news ecosystems in this country so communities get the news and information they need to thrive.
In towns that have lost their newspapers, researchers have chronicled a toll to democracy itself.
The roadmap was a year-long research effort informed by a broad and diverse coalition of newsroom leaders, journalists, and innovators in the field of local news. These contributors share a vision of a world in which people everywhere are equipped to improve their communities through abundant access to high-quality information, on urgent health and safety emergencies, the environment, the people and processes of local government, and daily social services like healthcare, education, and transportation.
This roadmap is co-authored by Elizabeth Green of Chalkbeat, Darryl Holliday of City Bureau, and Mike Rispoli of Free Press — each a civic information practitioner, along with contributions from Andrew Golis, Hala Harik Hayes, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Kary Perez, Sierra Sangetti-Daniels, and Matt Thompson.
The development of the roadmap was led by Chalkbeat with support from the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and American Journalism Project. The project was built on the 2022 Local News Summit organized by the Lenfest Institute and Aspen Digital.
A new practice is emerging from the local news and information crisis, one that holds the possibility of restoring, and even improving, the civic health of our communities.
This “civic media” practice carries forward the most valuable traditions of American broadcast and newspaper journalism by dedicating itself to informing the public, elevating voices, and impacting public policy and the processes of self-government. It also builds on that legacy by transforming who produces journalism and how they produce it, expanding journalism’s forms, and sharpening the definition of what it is for.
The new practice seeks not simply to “inform,” “entertain,” or “engage,” but to equip people with the information they need to make the places they live better: civic information. Networks of civic media practitioners – in digital news startups, grassroots community groups and think tanks, libraries and schools, and public media institutions across the country – are blossoming and poised for dramatic expansion.
The Roadmap for Local News recommends that a coalition of media practitioners, pro-democracy advocates, funders, and government leaders join forces to ensure that civic information is a ubiquitous asset in every community in the United States. To do this, this coalition will need to mobilize an immediate infusion of philanthropic resources that can catalyze lasting change by pursuing four strategies:
- Coordinate work around the goal of expanding “civic information,” not saving the news business;
- Directly invest in the production of civic information;
- Invest in shared services to sustain new and emerging civic information networks; and
- Cultivate and pass public policies that support the expansion of civic information while maintaining editorial independence.
There is a growing, galvanized movement ready to step up, in unison, with rigor and speed, to address our deepening civic challenges. This work must include all those who care about and consume civic information: practitioners in legacy and emerging news systems, people who care about democracy, and people who value and crave civic information to power their lives.
Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that every community in the United States has the civic information it needs to thrive. While a report can’t solve a crisis, we hope the roadmap inspires as well as sparks a much-needed conversation about the future of informed communities. Want to get involved or learn more about our efforts to make the roadmap a reality? Fill out the form below.
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