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‘A new form of censorship’: Protect your local newspapers or they’ll disappear

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FEBRUARY 08, 2019

Nearly a year after The Daily Californian’s Editorial Board denounced extreme layoffs and buyouts of local newspapers, we’re doing it again. Last month, the East Bay Express laid off its entire editorial staff — except for one editor.

Now the paper’s editorial staff will be replaced by freelance writers — a decision that harms not only the stability of the paper, but also the diversity of its writers. And, unfortunately, this reflects a national trend.

Local newspapers in the United States are collapsing at an alarming rate, leaving many communities without essential news coverage. A study from the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism found that since 2004, more than one thousand communities across the country have lost all news coverage. National papers simply don’t have the means to cover the diversity and complexity of local issues in every region. And the decline of local papers disproportionately impacts communities that are already vulnerable — low income, rural areas with limited access to education, according to the study.

It’s not just local papers — innovative and new forms of media are not immune to this national epidemic either. BuzzFeed, Yahoo! News, Vice Media and the Huffington Post are facing drastic cuts as well. Buzzfeed recently laid off nearly 15 percent of its editorial staff, slashing their LGBTQ+, national news and national security departments. The CEO of Buzzfeed explained that the publication will move on from the cuts by focusing on “the content that is working.” But this blatant commodification of journalists and stories that uplift marginalized voices is antithetical to what journalism stands for. Buzzfeed’s national security and national news teams broke key stories about the Trump administration and Russian use of social media to influence voters. Valuing money over invaluable information is detrimental to the role that journalism should play in a progressive society.

Journalism is a public service that leads to the empowerment of underrepresented voices. These papers grant residents a platform to vocalize their concerns. They also inform residents about key issues their communities are facing and hold local authority figures accountable. A 2011 report from the Federal Communications Commision detailed how local papers are the most effective medium for raising awareness about regional issues. Here in California, journalists painstakingly reported on wildfires that burned through several cities, risking their lives to give residents in those areas information that was critical to their safety and understanding of the circumstances surrounding these fires.

Journalists work with little sleep and low wages in high-stress environments to ensure that history is not erased. A recent study found that 70 percent of female journalists have faced multiple types of harassment on the job, including death threats — and yet, they continue to report on the news. Last June, immediately after The Capital Gazette shooting in Maryland, journalists from that very paper gathered in the garage of a mall next door to ensure that the paper was published.

It’s time for this country to wake up and realize how essential accurate reporting and news coverage is to all communities. Our nation’s own election was jeopardized by Twitter bots, propaganda and misinformation. The monopolization of local newsrooms by hedge funds who are concerned only with profits is a new form of censorship. If residents don’t actively fight to protect local journalism, it will disappear. Or worse, companies like Sinclair Broadcast Group will be able to disseminate propaganda disguised as news to local communities without fear of retaliation.

In an era when “fake news” has been normalized, the livelihood of American communities and the truth itself are at risk. So do your part in preserving this essential facet of our democracy: If you have the means to contribute to your local paper, please do.  

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

FEBRUARY 10, 2019