The Guardian has taken a stand on the decline of local journalism, calling for public funding as a “crucial part” of the solution.
In an opinion piece in the UK publisher’s editions – which include Australia and the UK – The Guardian says local journalism’s decline is bad news for democracy.
In its editorial, the paper says the lack of reliable information “not only weakens communities, but allows disinformation to flourish”. It says there are probably fewer local newspapers in Britain now than at any time since the 18th century. “More people get local news and information – or misinformation – from social media. A long-term decline has accelerated: more than 320 local titles closed between 2009 and 2019 as advertising revenues fell by about 70 per cent.
“The pandemic was another blow. At least as serious as these disappearances is the hollowing out of titles that have seen staffing, resources and pagination slashed, and coverage thus diminished.
“It is harder to quantify when court reporting is replaced by write-ups of press releases, or generic national stories topped-and-tailed with a little local colour, but it is obvious to readers.
“Publications are less and less likely to be owned by proprietors with a stake in their communities, and more and more by big conglomerates prioritising the extraction of cash. More than two-thirds of UK titles are held by the three largest publishers, leaving about 400 independents.”
The Guardian says production costs are rocketing and businesses are cutting back further on advertising. “While individual reporters and organisations still do remarkable work, they do it against the odds,” it says.
Pointing to what it claims is a a global problem, it says US newspapers are closing at the rate of two a week.
And while local newspapers “were never perfect”, it says the social costs of losing coverage “genuinely rooted in communities” is profound. News deserts tend to be places deprived in other ways.
The Guardian calls on UK tech regulator the Digital Markets Unit to ensure that small publishers are fairly paid by big digital platforms, and for the pilot news information fund set up after the 2019 Cairncross review of the sustainability of journalism to be much expanded and made permanent.
“There is no single easy fix,” it says. “But public funding is a crucial part of the mix.”