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A Brief But Spectacular take on how to rebuild local news
Geoff Bennett: Steve Waldman is the founder and president of Rebuild Local News, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to counter the collapse of local news and strengthen democracy. He's also the co-founder of Report for America. That's a national service program that places journalists in newsrooms across the country.
Tonight, he shares his Brief But Spectacular take on how to Rebuild Local News.
Steven Waldman, Founder and President, Rebuild Local News Coalition: Local news is in collapse.
There's all sorts of evidence that, when you don't have local news, you have lower voter turnout, more alienation, more polarization, people at each other's throats, more misinformation. I mean, it's really a terrible thing for communities to not have local news.
On the community level, local news organizations are often unifying figures. They're the places where you have obituaries of interesting people who played an important role in the community or the review of the community theater.
The things in the community that tie them together are given voice through community news. At least 1,800 communities right now don't have any source of local news. What we're finding is that, when there's a vacuum, it gets filled by other types of information, often misinformation, or national news, which may be accurate, but tends to be more polarizing.
Part of what happens when you consume news that is very partisan or national in nature is that you tend to think of your opponents as your enemies, whereas, when you have local news, you still have disagreements, but you might actually see that person at the little league game or at the supermarket the next day, and you know they're a human being.
We created Report for America to put reporters into communities to cover on local affairs. And the impact is amazing. I remember one in Eastern Kentucky where the reporter got there and it turned out that the folks there were complaining for a long time about not having clean drinking water, and no one was paying any attention.
And he just started writing stories about the drinking water. And before you know it, people in the state legislature were paying attention. And things like that happen all the time in communities throughout America of problems that aren't getting addressed because no one is watching the story.
To solve this crisis, we need the commercial, local media sector to reform, get better at connecting with the communities and be more locally owned. We're going to need philanthropy, large and small, to support community media.
And then, third, we're going to need some public policy help. It has to be done really carefully, but it can be done. At the end of the day, community journalism is not going to survive without the support of the community. And that can mean subscribing to a local newspaper, even if you don't love it. Subscribe to it, engage with it, tell them what they're doing wrong, but subscribe to it.
I'm Steve Waldman, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on how to Rebuild Local News.
Geoff Bennett: You can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.