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Local Newspapers Explore Nonprofit Model for Survival: Public Generally Unaware of Local Newspaper Struggle

The recent bankruptcy filing of McClatchy, a publisher of dozens of local newspapers including the Sacramento Bee, Kansas City Star and Miami Herald, is the latest casualty in the growing trend of diminishing local newspapers.

While newspapers are not dead, supersized outlets are thriving while localized coverage is on life support. Local papers are closing at an accelerating rate, and giants like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are flourishing. Earlier this month, The New York Times surpassed $800 million in annual digital revenue last month, most coming from its more than five million digital subscribers. The Wall Street Journal recently announced it surpassed two million digital subscribers and The Washington Post has been profitable and adding newsroom positions.

This trajectory means local communities lose the engines that provide coverage that affects them directly. There are already “news deserts” in many communities and regions where no media outlet covers local issues, government or events.

The scarcity of local news coverage has been acknowledged, however, and it is driving some creative solutions.

Some major newspapers relieve this point of friction with local “editions” and reporters dedicated to covering a certain metropolitan area. Pew Research Center reports that over the past two years newsroom collaborations have been growing as media outlets look for ways to augment production with a depleted staff.

A growing potential savior for local news is the exhaustive dismantling of traditional newspaper business model. Nonprofit news agencies are growing – Bloomberg reports there are about 200 nonprofit newsrooms employing 2,200 journalists nationwide providing local coverage in areas that were news deserts.

While this may be a solution to local coverage, it does not come without challenges. Federal funding for public media outlets like PBS and NPR face proposed cuts again, meaning donor support for local news has become even more crucial. Pew Research Center’s Journalism project found that 50 percent of nonprofit revenue came from foundation grants in 2012, and continues to be the largest source of funding for the majority of nonprofit news agencies.

One haunting finding of the Pew study is the lack of public awareness for local news’ condition. Journalists are very aware of the financial struggles of local news, as employment in U.S. newsroom, the majority of these jobs at local papers, has fallen by nearly a quarter in the past decade. While the study points out that Americans believe local news is very important and give local news outlet favorable marks—a striking 71 percent surveyed believe local media are doing well financially and only 14 percent say they’ve personally paid for local news over the past year.

As the old business model for local journalism does not function for many outlets, local news becomes reliant on donations, and it is imperative that the public does not take local news outlets for granted.

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