Tuesday, September 22, 2020

In Wed. webinar, Report for America cofounder to discuss idea for how to save local papers squeezed by hedge funds

Rural newspapers are at a crisis point, one accelerated by the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic, Steven Waldman writes for Journalism & Liberty. But Waldman, the cofounder of Report for America, has an idea for how to help, which he will discuss in a free webinar at 3:30 p.m. ET. on Wed., Sept. 23. Click here to register.

Many rural papers are treading water, financially speaking, because the lack of broadband access makes print a more accessible source of news for locals. But that won't always be the case. Also, many rural newspaper owners want to retire but have no clear successor. Many of these papers will end up getting sold to private equity funds or struggling newspaper chains. "Among those likely to go underwater are family-owned weeklies, including many ethnic newspapers. The local news system will manage to get even less competent, less inclusive, and less diverse," Waldman writes.

But many of the nation's 6,700 privately-owned papers have "significant civic value – built up over decades, and of the sort that would take considerable time and money to replicate via a new venture, if that were possible at all," Waldman writes. "Until now, we have assumed that our options were: allow ghost newspapers to proliferate, accept news deserts, or build brand new media organizations. 

A better option, he writes, would be to transform for-profit newspapers into local nonprofit organizations and Public Benefit Corporations. Waldman likens the notion to repotting a sickly plant in healthier soil and watering it. 

The strategy requires two parts: a new, private nonprofit "replanting fund" that would identify likely candidates and help them make the transition, and public policy changes to ease such transitions and discourage news consolidation, Waldman writes. 

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