A new problem in local journalism: Tracking its decline

Ken Doctor raises an important point midway through his recent Nieman Lab post exploring “10 numbers that define the news business today.”

“We seldom see much reporting of buyouts and layoffs these days, as some publishers concluded that the industry’s problems were only being exacerbated by its reporting on its own staff changes.”

That’s happening right now at my former company, Digital First Media, as buyouts and layoffs are quietly taking place across the country. This is on top of additional cuts in various places that happened a few months ago with little fanfare.

Cuts in big newsrooms such as Denver, St. Louis and Chicago will continue to make news, but we don’t hear about the smaller local newsrooms who end up losing two of their remaining four reporters. Unless, of course, it’s as outrageous of a cut as happened at the Saratogian and Troy Record in New York’s capital region this week, where the executive editor, editor, sports editor, chief photographer, a copy editor and a sports reporter all took buyouts – on top of the company eliminating the digital editor, city editor and other positions a month ago.

You get what you measure, and if we don’t have a handle on the extent of local journalism’s decline, we can’t properly address it.

As Doctor said:

“We can only guess at the math: How many fewer stories — online as well as in print — are 20,000 fewer journalists producing? What don’t communities know about themselves that they might have known a decade ago?”

Update: John Robinson has written an excellent take on the issue at his blog Media, Disrupted.

Related: “Journalism companies are dead, long live journalists.”

Published by mattderienzo

Matt DeRienzo has worked in journalism for more than 25 years as a reporter, editor, publisher, director of news and journalism nonprofit executive director. As vice president of news at Hearst Connecticut, he led a newsroom of more than 175 people, instilling a culture of investigative reporting, and growing audience while launching a paid digital subscription model at six daily newspapers. While there, he oversaw a national investigation into sex abuse at Boys & Girls Clubs that was recently recognized with an Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) national award, as well as the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award. As the first full-time executive director of LION, a nonprofit supporting local independent online news organizations across the country, he started with an annual budget of $30,000 and helped bring in more than $2 million over three years from funders including the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, Democracy Fund, Inasmuch Foundation (Ethics & Excellence in Journalism), and Facebook, while tripling the organization’s membership. As a publisher, he was an early leader in reader and community engagement, launching North America’s first “newsroom café,” which opened a Connecticut daily newspaper’s doors to the public, and which was recognized with the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Innovator of the Year Award. As editor of the New Haven Register, he led a team of more than 100 journalists borrowed from around the country and on his own staff in covering the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its aftermath. During his tenure in New Haven, the Register also received the Robert C. McGruder Award for Leadership in Newsroom Diversity from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Most recently, he has done consulting work for Local Media Association on fundraising from foundations and individual giving in support of local news organizations. He co-managed the Facebook Journalism Project’s recent COVID-19 Relief grant program, which received more than 2,000 applications and is part of $25 million in funding Facebook has earmarked to help local news organizations through this crisis. He was a Sulzberger fellow at Columbia University in 2018, and has taught reporting, editing and multimedia journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University. His column about the journalism industry has appeared in Editor & Publisher magazine since January 2016. He is a full-time single dad of two who has been active in Northwest Connecticut as a board member of the Susan B. Anthony Project, a domestic and sexual violence support and advocacy, and previously as a longtime United Way board member and two-time annual fund chairman.

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