Out of Print – The Case for Philanthropic Support for Local Journalism in a Time of Market Upheaval

In a new reportTony Proscio, of the Center for Strategic Philanthropy & Civil Society at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, explores the current landscape of local journalism, with a particular focus on the role that philanthropy could play in revitalizing the field. 

The New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens are home to a combined total of about 5 million people — slightly more than the population of Ireland. And yet Ireland, with 4.7 million residents, boasts eight daily newspapers, including two broadsheets, and dozens of regional and local papers, most of them with newsrooms devoted to continuous coverage of Irish communal life, economics, politics, and business. New York City, roughly twice the size of Ireland, and with a metropolitan population nearly the size of Australia’s, has no major citywide daily newspaper devoted primarily to its civic affairs, much less to the more localized news of constituent boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens. One slender daily covers Brooklyn five days a week; there is no equivalent in Queens.

Ireland is just one of several possible comparisons. New Zealand, with roughly the same population as Ireland or as the combination of Brooklyn and Queens, has more than a dozen newspapers. Costa Rica, also with roughly the same population, has at least four dailies in Spanish, several in English, and at least two fully staffed online news sites. Denmark, with only slightly more people (5.6 million), has some three dozen papers. Israel, with 8.5 million people, almost exactly the same as New York City, has more than a dozen national dailies. The list could go on.

The comparison is imperfect, of course. All these other examples are nations, with national leaders, institutions, and industries that need to advertise and be covered from within their national borders. Still, New York City’s power over the quality of its residents’ lives, and the complexity of its politics and economy, surely warrants a level of local coverage that is at least a healthy fraction of what’s available in less-populous places.

Yet as matters stand, an American metropolis larger than 134 members of the United Nations is at best a sideline for three or four major newspapers that bear its name but whose primary interest lies elsewhere. The New York Times, New York’s flagship paper, has been paring back  its Metro section steadily for years, to the point that its shrunken city desk — the number of reporters covering city affairs has fallen by half in the past 15 years — is barely capable of producing two or three in-depth stories on city policy a week, out of a total of perhaps four dozen metro stories of all kinds. Stories of more local significance, about neighborhoods and borough-level events, have almost disappeared. “Community coverage,” former Public Editor Liz Spayd wrote in 2016, “is out.”

Read the full report here.