Local journalism is killing itself – but here's how to fix it
No news is bad news
I’ve never had a “real” journalism job.
All of the years I’ve worked as a writer and journalist have been as a freelancer – a career I carved out after spending time as a blogger and internet loudmouth.
And though I love what I do and get on well with my professional peers, I still experience something like “imposter syndrome”. Unlike many journalists, I was born too late to have worked on a local paper, and too state-school educated to have got a job at a national outlet after I graduated from university.
It means that even today, after years of being paid actual money to write words for a living, I feel faintly embarrassed when introducing myself as a “journalist” to people. This is because I haven’t served years in the trenches court reporting in a provincial town. Or because I’ll never have the unearned confidence and complete lack of shame that only a private education can offer.
In any case, the weird thing about this isn’t only whatever status-anxiety-riddled psychodrama is going on in my head. The weird part is that for my entire career, local journalism has been in a perpetual state of crisis and managed decline1. It feels like every week, another outlet announces another round of lay-offs, and others simply give up and disappear. It feels though the industry is less limping along, and more barely clinging on by its fingertips.
The reasons for this are, of course, well-worn.
The internet has destroyed the news business model entirely, with Facebook taking classified ads, Google Adsense stealing display advertising, Tinder swiping personals, and so on. The only thing left is the deeply unprofitable “reporting the news” part of the paper.
However, it isn’t just impossible structural forces that are the problem. Faced with unenviable circumstances, the local outlets that still exist are killing themselves with the editorial and product choices they have made.
But there is good news: There is a better way. And I’ve figured out what it is. So read on to find out how to fix local reporting.