'The City' Launches, Hopes to Reignite Local Community Engagement

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported on the launch of a new nonprofit local news entity set to serve the New York City area. Dubbed The City, which begins publishing in January and is helmed by Daily News alumnus Jere Hester, hopes to fill in the gap left when The New York Daily News recently went digital, laying off half its staff, and The Village Voice was shuttered.

New York is partnering with The City, offering tech, editorial, design, and distribution support and access to its audience. The two entities will also share office space, though The City will receive no financial support from the magazine



In fact, The City has already raised nearly $8.5 million in funding, with the Leon Levy Foundation, Charles H. Revson Foundation and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark each contributing $2.5 million.

According to New YorkThe City will cover important civic topics like transportation, housing and real estate, climate change, healthcare, immigrant New Yorkers and criminal justice.

Though New York still has its fair share of local news outlets, those are threatened by corporate takeovers — a trend crossing the nation. 

Just last month, Pittsburgh became the first major U.S. city to no longer produce a printed daily local paper, when The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pulled back publication days to five a week, rather than seven. The remaining two days will still appear, but digitally.

As the Village Voice began its slow walk toward death, it, too, went digital-only. 

Ben Smith, editor of BuzzFeed News and the chairman of The City’s board of directors, stated to The Times: “Journalism is a utility like water in a city — the place will fall apart without it. I don’t think anyone imagines The Village Voice fell apart because it ran out of bad landlords to cover.”

The lost outlets and circulation leads to a disconnect within communities and the loss of accountability journalism brings to local government. 

A report in the Neiman Lab showed that after The Independent, a British daily, shifted to online-only editions in 2016, its readership didn’t follow. Rather, it disappeared. Another study noted in Pittsburgh's City Paper concluded that the loss of daily newspapers leads to increased government costs. Bottom line: residents' pocketbooks take a hit when publishers take away newspapers.

The City, which is a digital-only publication, is part of a new generation of news outlets attempting to fill in the gap once traditional newspapers are stuttering due to hostile takeovers, operations costs or the revenue issues surrounding digital advertising dollars.

Though the two studies show the negative ramifications of the loss of local — and printed —news, The City has the opportunity to appeal to a digital audience hungry for local New York City news. And, in effect, bolster the validity of the growing number of nonprofit newsrooms nationwide.

Print is not coming back, but it’s heartening to know there are dedicated journalists eager to serve local communities and hold those in power accountable. And they are finding the funding to do it. 

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