A Fund for Community Newspapers?

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It’s the dog days of summer and — while we’d love to be able to relax a bit and go rollin’ on the river with our pups — the news doesn’t seem to slow down the way it used to.

Even with Congress and the president away, local news along K Street, M Street and Wisconsin Avenue is buzzing. Businesses are coming and going. There is construction everywhere and new plans for more (see our story about the Jelleff Center). A population boom is bringing families to Georgetown, along with new enterprises to meet their needs.

Keeping you informed is just half the job of a local newspaper. The other half is reporting your reactions to and engagement with the issues of the day. Our only tool is old-fashioned“gumshoe” journalism based on first-source reporting, something that requires reporters and editors who have deep knowledge of and connections in the community.

It’s an exhilarating but also a scary time for community newspapers. While bizarre attacks on the media from the highest level (you know who we mean) to the lowest (the recent murders at the Capital Gazette) are core-shaking, good local journalism faces a far more existential threat: a scarcity of operational funds.

The cost of everything — especially paper, ink and distribution — is increasing. Full-time salaries with benefits, and offices with even basic equipment, are luxuries that almost no local newspaper can afford, certainly not in Georgetown. Even the venerable Daily News of New York City cut its staff in half just last month. Digital newsletters and social media blasts can only partially replace the traditional daily and weekly paper editions.

Maybe it’s time to look at government support for struggling but vital local newspapers, including the so-called “for profit” outlets. Other industries have gotten (and are getting) bailouts.

“Given the dire situation for local journalism, government funding has become an increasingly reasonable solution,” Kelly McBride, a senior vice president at Poynter, a nonprofit focused on journalism education and democracy, told the New York
Times. “There is deep, deep need across much of the country for local newspapers. If you don’t see media writing about your life that you can trust, it’s very hard to trust any media.”

The New Jersey legislature has just approved a $5-million fund to pay for community journalism. Grants will be handed out by a board of directors. It’s one idea to watch. Finding support for local newspaper outlets is not just about saving journalism. It’s about saving democracy.

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