NEW YORK DAILY NEWS — Mayor de Blasio has the same First Amendment right we all have to complain about news coverage. But the Mayor’s concerns about “tabloid culture” and the impact of “corporate media” on democracy won’t fix the fundamental problem with New York’s local journalism: There isn’t enough of it, by a long shot.
I’d like the mayor to join us in trying to repair that.
Both the left and the right have critiques of news media that deserve attention. But the basic problem in local news is not, as the mayor suggested, political distortions by corporate-owned media. It is that the business model of those media corporations has been blown to smithereens and no one has yet found a replacement that supports the level or quality of local journalism they used to support.
Local news coverage is in decline almost everywhere. The rise of what are being called news deserts is a national crisis. There is growing evidence that without local journalism, communities spin apart. Corruption goes uncaught. Important institutions, public and private, are not held to account.
One new study found that when local coverage declines, local government pays more to borrow, apparently because no one is watching how the borrowed money is being spent. That finding lands hard here in the newspaper that authored the most famous headline in the history of municipal finance.
Everyone still remembers “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” But not everyone remembers that the headline sprouted from a large and continuing body of coverage by a team of Daily News reporters assigned to the city’s fiscal crisis. They competed fiercely every day against the New York Times, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and others. President Ford wasn’t happy with the coverage either, but the public was well served.
That was 1975.
The mayor says the media is stuck in the 70s and 80s. Journalism wasn’t perfect then either, of course. Yes, we can find the roots of a snarky and shallow tabloidism that went on to infect our national conversation. But the dominant fact of local journalism back then is that there was a lot of it. Hundreds of reporters competed with each other. The News had whole offices working seven days a week and late into the evening in Brooklyn and Queens. In Queens alone, The News had two education reporters, and two more in Brooklyn.
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