Commentary

'Hollowing Out' Of Local News Reflects Larger Economic Ills

The "hollowing out" of the local news media is the subject of a report this month from PEN America, the nonprofit group that supports press freedoms. It offers dozens of recommendations on how to save local newspapers amid a declinethat likely is as irreversible as the loss of the country's manufacturing base or its shopping centers.

PEN not only suggest that news publishers develop more reader revenue, but also calls on digital media companies, philanthropies and government agencies to support local newspapers. The group contemplates more bureaucracy in local news, including the establishment of "guard rails" to ensure editorial independence from the government.

While I agree local news is in crisis, I'd prefer to see more market-based solutions, rather than depending on taxpayers for funding. The federal government can barely handle existing mandates for public spending.

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Plenty of publishers devise ways to adapt to market realities; the industry's ills partly reflect broader changes in the economy.

Newspapers depend on local businesses for ad revenue, but walking around New York City doesn't give me much confidence that retailers and restaurants have any money to spend to promote their businesses. Block after block has empty storefronts that represent a lost opportunity for commercial activity, while the lack of services diminishes neighborhoods.

It's amazing that digital media companies like Google and Facebook are looking for growth among local businesses when consumers first turn to their smartphones to shop at Amazon or mass-market retailers. The only remaining businesses are bodegas, dollar stores, nail salons, dry cleaners and various kinds of eateries.

New York isn't alone in experiencing the "retail apocalypse," as countless announcements about store closings and bankruptcies attest. No one is suggesting that taxpayers rescue Forever 21.

Newspapers do serve a special role in society, but readers are best served when publications are aligned with their needs. The best way that consumers can express that is by opening their wallets.

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