Health & Wellness

Your local paper: In the Constitution and deemed an ‘essential service’

Local news outlets across the country are providing essential, up-to-the-minute information aimed at keeping communities safe. Even in cities under virtual lockdown, the news media has been recognized as an “essential service” for public health and safety, alongside hospitals and grocery stores.

Local news outlets have been rising to the occasion, breaking stories, guiding the public on do’s and don’ts, and holding leaders accountable for life-and-death decisions. Many – including The Chronicle – have dropped online paywalls for their COVID-19 coverage, recognizing that it represents an essential public service.

But while they may seem to be thriving, local media outlets still suffer from the disintegration of longstanding, advertising-based business models.

That, coupled with the mass migration of consumers to social media platforms, has stripped local news outlets of their prime source of revenue.

That has led to the closure of 1 out of every 5 local newspapers and the slashing of newsroom staffs in half over the past 15 years.

Traditional newspapers and corporate ownership have left rural and small towns without real coverage. 

The spread of COVID-19 has made this chronic illness acute: The closure of local businesses and slowdown in economic activity are depriving local news outlets of essential revenue to keep operations going.

In recent weeks, several publications have dropped print editions, or made plaintive appeals to readers for the financial support necessary to sustain operations.

As Congress and state legislatures contemplate ongoing and massive stimulus bills aimed to keep our economy and society afloat, local media outlets should be part of the package.

Funds to replace lost revenue and ensure that local news outlets continue to provide essential coverage of the pandemic and other topics will enable communities to stay informed, healthy and connected through this crisis.

The monies need to be carefully safeguarded to ensure that the infusion of public funds does not compromise editorial integrity or deter hard-hitting coverage.

Local media is among the vital organs of our democracy and must not be allowed to fail.

Suzanne Nossel is chief executive of PEN America. Viktorya Vilk is the director of digital safety and free expression programs at PEN America.



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos