The Rebirth of Local News

Newspapers may be dying. But from big cities to Appalachia, great journalists are finding new ways to cover local news.

By Laura Hazard Owen Mike Rispoli Lisa Snowden Nikki Usher Ken Ward Jr.

Tagged Democracymediastates

Democracy has, as is inevitable for a general policy journal, tended to focus on national domestic policy. But democracy is built and fortified at the local and state levels. Local newspapers and media have been decimated in recent years by falling ad revenue and predatory companies gutting newsrooms for a quick dollar. We wanted to focus on green shoots throughout the country, so we assembled a collection of experts working in and studying local news ecosystems. This conversation took place on March 31, and has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The panelists included:

Mike Rispoli, the senior director of journalism and civic information at Free Press;

Lisa Snowden, the editor-in-chief of Baltimore Beat;

Nikki Usher (they/them), an associate professor in communication at the University of San Diego and a senior fellow at the Open Markets Institute;

Ken Ward Jr., a co-founder of Mountain State Spotlight and a distinguished local reporting fellow with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica.

The moderator was Laura Hazard Owen, editor of Nieman Journalism Lab at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Laura Hazard Owen: Start out just by introducing yourselves briefly and talking a little bit about the work you do, and then we can get into some questions.

Nikki Usher: I’m a professor at the University of San Diego, and I study the intersection of media technology and politics and have been studying changes to journalism in the digital age since the beginning of my career. Initially that was what is happening to journalism because of the internet, and it has more recently become what is happening to democracy and what role journalism has to play in that. My most recent book is News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism, and the argument is pretty much in the title.

Ken Ward Jr.: I’m in Charleston, West Virginia, where for 28 years I worked at the The Charleston Gazette and then Charleston Gazette-Mail. I’m now a founder of Mountain State Spotlight, a local civic news organization serving West Virginians, and I also am a distinguished local reporting fellow with ProPublica. What we’re trying to do at Mountain State Spotlight is not simply build a new economic model where our journalism is funded by philanthropy and reader donations, but also build a new kind of journalism that is closer to West Virginians and is giving them the information they need to help make their state a better place.

Mike Rispoli: I’m the senior director of journalism and civic information at Free Press. My work at Free Press over the past eight years has focused on figuring out ways that you can build power to change how local news operates. I first started as a community organizer in New Jersey and worked with communities around the state to find ways to fill in information gaps, sometimes partnering with newsrooms and in other cases starting their own. With many community allies around New Jersey, I helped lead a grassroots campaign to pass legislation that created the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which is an independent nonprofit that grants out public dollars to help support local news and information in the state. I now sit on its board and more recently have been working around local news policy, in particular as a co-author of “The Roadmap for Local News: An Emergent Approach to Meeting Civic Information Needs.”

Lisa Snowden: I am the editor and co-founder of Baltimore Beat. It’s a Black-focused alt weekly that I founded here in Baltimore city back in 2017, when Baltimore City Paper ended. That had been a 40-year-old institution in the city. I always describe it as a companion to The Baltimore Sun, because where the Sun is doing daily reporting, City Paper allowed you to take a step back and figure out big-picture things, often in a tongue-in-cheek, alt-weekly-focused kind of way. What we’ve done with Baltimore Beat is try to do that in a way that keeps at the front of our mind that Baltimore is a 60-percent Black city.

We’ve been a for-profit paper. We reinvented ourselves as a nonprofit when the for-profit didn’t work out. And we’ve been able to work in the capacity that we are now, with a small staff and producing a twice-monthly print product, through the gift of a $1 million from a family here in Baltimore that had up until 2020 been giving out grant money piecemeal in the way that many smaller grant-making places do. They felt compelled by the pandemic and the way that that disproportionately affected Black folks, and also by the murder of George Floyd, that they needed to do more. And the way that they wanted to do more was to completely divest their money. We relaunched in August 2022, and we are now putting out the paper and also looking for the funding to continue our work.

Owen: I thought it might be interesting, since we’re all in different parts of the country, to talk about where we get our local news and what the local news landscape is like in each of our areas. I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We have a newspaper, the Boston Globe, covering the entire region. We had a weekly print newspaper called the Cambridge Chronicle, owned by Gannett, that lost its editor last year. I get most of my Cambridge news from a news site called Cambridge Day. I’m on a Cambridge Public Schools listserv, and I also get a lot of local news from Facebook and especially from other parents on Facebook.

Snowden: I yell about it a lot: Baltimore is not a news desert. We have TV news, we have The Baltimore Sun. We have another nonprofit outlet that launched about a year ago, the Baltimore Banner. But for me, I felt like there was a lane for the kind of work that I did because a lot of those places are solidly mainstream, traditional news. Even the Banner, which is a nonprofit paper started by a man named Stewart Bainum Jr. He actually tried to buy the Sun because the Sun is owned by Alden [Ed.: the hedge fund Alden Global Capital], and he was not allowed. So basically he recreated that same model, for better or for worse, in the Banner.

For me, though, there’s still a need for journalism that is not mainstream, that is being more thoughtful about the ways that mainstream journalism does not serve us, especially communities that are largely poor, like Baltimore city is, and as I said before, 60 percent Black. Mainstream journalism is reporting “the police said this” and taking it at its word, or looking uncritically to positions of power to get your information, to get all your quotes. And what I’m trying to do with the Beat is to intentionally not do that, to intentionally vary the sources that we’re talking to.

We also make sure to have a lot of resources available in ways the mainstream doesn’t really do. We have a resource guide that prints in every paper listing where people can get free groceries, where people can get free tax help, where you can get a very inexpensive cell. Because again, mainstream media isn’t terrible in and of itself, but there are a lot of shortcomings, and I think that we’re in a place politically and economically in this country that it’s time to look at it and see what works and what doesn’t. And the Beat is in a way an experiment in figuring out what can be next outside of the model that we’ve all used for so many years.

Ward: West Virginia remains very fortunate to have a lot of small daily and small weekly newspapers that are really community papers. These are places you’d be more likely to find the sorts of things that Lisa is talking about. What you don’t always get in those publications is as much information about the challenges that marginalized communities in those places face, and also about places where something might be happening that the local power structure, which sometimes includes the owner of the local paper, doesn’t challenge.

I worked for a long time for a paper that had statewide circulation, and in the days that I started there it was rolling in money, and we could do a lot of travel and get around West Virginia and do stories in places that nobody else was going to. West Virginia still is also fortunate to have that paper, though it is much diminished in the size of its staff. We still have a public broadcasting news staff here, but also it is much smaller than it was 30 years ago when I started. A very popular and dominant news source here is West Virginia Metro News, which is a statewide radio network. It features a two-hour show every morning by a fairly conservative talk show host, but they also have a number of really great local reporters that do really interesting reporting. And we also have one large, somewhat regional newspaper chain that owns papers in a lot of the large cities here, and it has a statewide correspondent and smaller staffs located around the state.

What I have seen happen increasingly as my career went on was state capital-based news organizations pulling back, doing a lot less coverage of places outside of Charleston. And even when they did do coverage of smaller communities up in a rural hollow or small towns, it was very much parachute journalism, the equivalent of The New York Times parachuting in anywhere in the country. We’re trying to stop doing that at Mountain State Spotlight.

So, there’s a lot of challenges here. There are far fewer reporters. That means less time, that means quicker hit stories, that means less depth. And of course, like a lot of places in the country, local news reporting isn’t something that compensates people very well. There’s a lot of turnover because folks just can’t sustain a reasonable lifestyle based on what they’re being paid. We’re trying to fix that at Mountain State Spotlight also.

Rispoli: I live in Philadelphia. I mainly get a lot of my news from this awesome website called Billy Penn, which was critical in the past few days because there was a little bit of a water scare here in Philly, where some chemicals were dumped into the Delaware [River] and there were some concerns and some really poor communication from the city. There was a lot of confusion and panic. Sites like Billy Penn were huge for me in order to better understand what was going on, and what was being said by the city, and whether or not it was safe for me and my kids to drink our water. So, I was feeling very grateful for sites like Billy Penn, but I also listen a lot to WHYY, read The Inquirer—the Inky, as we lovingly call it here.

But most of my family and friends live in New Jersey, and as a former statehouse reporter there, I still very closely follow the Jersey statehouse politics. New Jersey has always been in a really strange situation when it came to media. Its broadcast media mainly came from out of state, New York and Philadelphia, and that led to New Jersey always really relying on local commercial print. And as Gannett mainly ravaged the state and laid off reporters and closed many newspapers, lots of communities around the state were left in the dark.

More recently, one of the most well-known papers in the state, The Star-Ledger, let go of the sole congressional reporter who was covering New Jersey’s delegation and laid off their entire photography department. What feels really scary in a lot of ways is that, in places like New Jersey, you’re continuing to see a real collapse of the more legacy models in the state. And while there are some really exciting new projects getting off the ground, just the scale of collapse is moving so quickly.

Usher: I’m going to offer a twofold answer. One, because I want to speak to some different trends in rural America that come from the last four years I spent living in Champaign-Urbana. Which, just to give you a visual, people there would call it a college town, but my housing development ended in cornfields. Some people who live in CU like to call it “micro-urban,” but it’s a cornfield college town, and really purple at best. And also I wanted to speak to my current locale, which is San Diego.

We have similar dynamics around community papers in Illinois. Many of them are owned by people who are also in the statehouse. There’s an interest within the state of Illinois to bolster and support local newspapers through the statehouse, in part because there are vested interests in some of these local community newspapers, not all of which have covered communities that were not white majority particularly well. We also have the Chicago Tribune going through tremendous decay and decline, that’s really been talked about quite a bit. But for rural America, like where I was, we have a really mistrusted local newspaper that long had a reputation for being extremely conservative. People who were at the university subscribed because they felt they had a moral obligation. We have a robust public radio station, but it’s on the AM dial, which is problematic for people who only listen on FM. I think that’s significant.

Facebook is the primary source of news and information for communities in Illinois. I can say this having documented a lot of it with my former research team around COVID-19, that Facebook becomes the be-all, end-all community bulletin board for really understanding local news and information. That’s concerning because Facebook is a platform company that doesn’t care about democracy.

In San Diego, what has shocked me the most is that I always thought that Voice of San Diego was the paragon of early local investigative news, but none of my students have really heard of it, whereas the footprint for broadcast television seems to be monumental. And The San Diego Union-Tribune has just gone through so many cutbacks and is in the shadow of the Los Angeles Times, both in terms of ownership, but also in terms of oomph. If you’re in it, you might read it, but other than that, there are a lot of innocuous feel-good stories, generally chasing the tail of the latest scandal rather than breaking those scandals.

So, these are two very different media situations: a rural economy that’s plagued by diminished local news, where people are turning to Facebook for the most up-to-date information, and a big metropolitan area where broadcast television is highly trusted and depended upon.

Owen: I want to talk a little bit about what it means for democracy when local news disappears or diminishes. What is the effect on local politics? We have some statistics. Reports suggest that when communities lose their local newspaper, voting rates decline and there’s less civic participation. And also, when local news goes away, more of the political news that people see is national political news, which can increase polarization. But what do you think about the connection between struggles for local news and struggles for democracy?

Snowden: Nikki, when you brought up the Midwest, my ears perked up. Baltimore city is worlds away from the Midwest or parts of the middle of the country in many people’s minds. But really, they’re both places that lack access. In Baltimore, poverty keeps people off the internet. There are parts of the country that are smaller communities that people can’t afford it either. Sometimes those communities don’t even have good strong internet signals. So, these are two seemingly disparate groups of people and communities that people never really put together because of this country’s race problem, but if I want to be completely blunt on a Friday, they both have the same needs. In both places, poverty keeps people outside the public square.

So that’s what the lack of access and information does. Even when we had a lot less capacity at the Beat, it was always important for me to have a calendar because at least I can do my part to be like, “Hey, this is when the city council is meeting.” Or even for folks that are just like, “I’ll see something in my community and want to fix it,” here’s a place where I will list your event for free and hopefully other folks can see it. Pre-pandemic, Facebook had a pretty robust event calendar. Right now, it’s decimated, it’s bad. I use it because even now, as the editor-in-chief and person doing things like this, I still make our community events calendar a priority, so I’m the one that’s going through Facebook and Google looking for these events, and Facebook just isn’t even there anymore.

I’m doing the best that I can because I want people to show up at events. I want to write about them and let people know this is what the mayor is doing, this is what our state’s attorney is doing. But also here are opportunities to show up. We have a group that comes to the top of my mind, Baltimore Renters United, it’s a renters’ advocacy group. They might not have the same budget for promoting events, but I will put it up and I will distribute it all across the city for free. Because what I can do, in addition to providing information, is providing access to those public squares to encourage information and people being involved in their communities.

Owen: Lisa, it’s interesting that you bring up calendars. I was just talking to someone who’s researching local news in New Jersey, and she found that one of readers’ biggest demands is a calendar of events for the community. That information can be weirdly hard to find. So that’s a huge service that you’re providing to people.

Ward: Calendars are a really important thing to talk about. And another thing that communities are losing is obituaries, death notices. It’s really an important thing. I pay for a subscription to the little paper in the place I grew up in West Virginia mostly so I can keep up with the death notices, to see the parents of people I went to high school with who died.

A part of what all of this goes to is there’s a very vibrant “save local news” community out there. There’s a lot of money to be had, and there’s a lot of support for it. But one of the things that isn’t always as clearly talked about is how we are defining what local news is, and one of the most important parts of that is that you have to ask people before you can tell them. You ask them what they need before you tell them what you think they need.

One of the things along with that that happens here is the nationalization of local politics. How many places today, if you go look around at local news outlets, are going to have articles like, “what does the mayor think about Donald Trump getting indicted?” Well, the mayor has nothing to do with that part of our government. So why are we not asking the mayor, “Hey, are you going to fix that pothole on my street?” instead of that?

And two observations that are really interesting that we found at Mountain State Spotlight. One is the midterm elections. We did a voter guide. Here’s who’s on the ballot, here’s what their job has been before. It was just super basic information. It was the most clicked on, most read thing we’ve ever published. If everyone who read our guide voted, that would be one-fifth of the people who cast votes in West Virginia in the midterms. I was both astonished and horrified by that because at that point we’re a two-and-a-half-year-old startup, and there are lots of longstanding legacy media organizations with more resources than we have. None of them produced a statewide voter guide, and people had to come to us. And we got lots of comments from people, “Hey, here’s $50, thank you so much for your voter guide. This was information I couldn’t find anywhere else.” That really has us reassessing. When we were founded, we thought we were going to do very deep-dive public policy investigative stories, but there’s a growing gap of basic information that West Virginians have that we need to help them fill.

Talking about the effect on democracy and the effect on politics: We did a really interesting exercise where, prior to the election, we sent all of our reporters out to various places all over West Virginia with instructions to just go talk to people, but not to ask them about the election. To ask them things like, “Hey, what’s going on in your community? What are you really excited about and proud about in your community? What are you worried about?” You know, “What’s your kid’s school like?” When we were able to ask people less “political” questions, one of the things you find out is the polarization starts to evaporate, that people have more in common than the political system and the media tells them they should. I think that’s part of what we need to reassess as journalists and as the media: How are we coming at covering politics and democracy? Are we asking before we tell?

Usher: We tend to talk about the decline of local news almost exclusively from newspapers’ perspective. And that’s a problem for lots of reasons. But I think we also tend to assume that the problem is a lack of supply. And the problem may very well be a lack of demand. It might just be that people don’t really want our local news or don’t want the kind of local news we’re providing, and based on the analytics from many local newspapers, what is it, a regular return user is like three times a month for one to three minutes. The appetite for local news and information cannot be disaggregated from the larger political and cultural context. And the larger political and cultural context has shifted in terms of politics, information, back toward the centers of power, toward DC.

I would also want to just push back on what Ken was saying about people not having differences once you start to strip away the national politics. I did a major study of public health officials trying to get the word out about COVID-19 vaccines in rural Illinois. They became their communities’ targets. It was like they were the flashpoint for all of the national debates, and on very local sites, national misinformation got localized. I’m not sure that these divisions really are fixable. And I think that the copycat effect of trying to be the next Donald Trump, which we saw with Darren Bailey and many politicians downstate, really motivates local politicians to try to jump on national bandwagons to become almost local authoritarians.

Ward: We saw that here, and obviously with COVID science and politics, that was seen lots of places. If these fractures can’t be fixed, I want to push back on that for no other reason than we’ve got to find ways to live together and work together and improve our communities together.

For example, West Virginia’s legislature just passed a campus carry bill to allow concealed handguns on all of our public college and university campuses. We were writing about that. I think you have to think about your audience, and the audience for that story for me was, here’s this grandfather in Logan County, West Virginia, who likes to deer hunt and squirrel hunt. Because of that, if the story is presented in one way, he’s probably just going to toss it away and not even read it. But if we think of that person as the audience, their reaction might be, “I like to hunt and I go hunting every season, but I don’t know about my granddaughter being at WVU if everybody in her class has a concealed weapon.” Too often, especially in parachute journalism, one of the things that happens is writing the story as if you’re writing for people who are exactly like you as opposed to the people who actually live in the place.

The other thing I think is really worth trying to pull apart is this nationalization of news. Is it being driven by a greater demand for national news? Or is it a function of shrinking supply of local news? My total guess is it’s probably some mix of the two, but that’s important because if it’s not driven at all by shrinking supply of local news, then increasing the supply of local news might not fix the problem. We need to diagnose it to figure out how to fix it. Because it stands to reason that voting for somebody for mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, because they’re a little Trump, as opposed to somebody who will make sure that the city healthcare clinic is open and that services for people experiencing homelessness are provided or potholes are fixed—we want to work toward helping people navigate that.

Owen: Some of this relates so directly to the report that Mike has been working on and the research he’s doing about the concept of “civic information.” Mike, do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Rispoli: One of the first questions you asked was thinking about local news in the context of this broader discussion of democracy or the rise of extremism. What’s really important for us to think about is that while we in the journalism space have framed this as a journalism or local news problem, I think that we will be best served by not doing that anymore and thinking about this much more as a community civic health, democracy issue. When we were doing work in New Jersey around the Civic Information Bill campaign, that was absolutely the message that worked when it came to really engaging the public to think about how public policy can help support local news and information.

When writing the report “The Roadmap for Local News,” one of the things that was really important for us was to focus on talking about this new system of models that has emerged as local newspapers have been disappearing. And we called this field civic media, because it is media that is solely focused on producing civic information, which in some ways looks like what we’ve been talking about. It’s like election information. Maybe it’s accountability journalism around the city council. But it also includes meeting people’s basic information needs, helping them navigate complex systems where they live and feel connected to their neighbors and to their community. All of these things contribute to that civic health of a community.

These new models are predominantly non-commercial, but sometimes are commercial or some sort of hybrid. We recommended, first and foremost, that instead of trying to save these legacy models and institutions, we need to focus on building this new system up more by significantly increasing philanthropic support, by thinking about ways that these various networks can share services and learn from one another. Civic media is naturally more collaborative, and so we think it’s important that we think about how these networks can better operate together.

And then, finally, thinking about public policy. The media system that we have right now, including the one that we’re bemoaning the loss of, exists in many respects because policy decisions allowed it to grow in the way that it has: more consolidated, more preferential to dominant players, to commercial players. We need to think about an entirely new public policy approach that helps cultivate and expand this new model that we’re seeing so much promise in. From my perspective, one of the best ways to do that is to think about new forms of public funding.

Our public broadcast media system was created in this country in the 1960s as a way to fill in the gaps, to recognize that the market can’t produce certain types of information that meet people’s needs. Those gaps are so much bigger now—and the way that people both create and consume media is so different—that we need to be thinking about new types of public policy to help make sure that people can get news and information that’s really critical to their community.

Owen: We can start wrapping up this conversation by talking a bit more about funding. Much of the conversation around funding local news in recent years has been about the funding coming from readers directly, from reader donations and from subscriptions. Ken and Lisa, I wanted to hear a little bit about how you think of the role of reader funding.

Snowden: Because I’ve intentionally chosen marginalized communities, we have access for people to do one-time donations and rolling donations where their money is deducted from their accounts. And that’s a part of our revenue. It’s going to always be small dollar for us, but that money still counts. But at the same time, we have to be looking for big money too. I do not think that the Beat is sustainable with just small-dollar revenue. That’s really the thing that keeps me up at night is how to get that big money in also. Adam Holofcener—he’s Lillian Holofcener’s grandson, and he’s been kind of the spokesperson for the family that gave us the $1 million—did some research and found all the family foundations that are like his and said, these people can also divest their money, but it’s hard to divest your money because you’re divesting power.

The problem is that we get away from certain things when we jump to nonprofit news, we get out of the way that we can maybe be manipulated or affected by businesses that might buy ads, but that same thing shows up when you come to nonprofit media too, because we’re all going to largely the same foundations to look for money. It is still an experiment to see whether people are willing to put their money where their mouths are. The money is out there. I know that folks have money; there are problematic news outlets here in Baltimore even that are not having problems making payroll. But it’s whether people that have access will give up some of their power to make it so that people that don’t have access have access. That’s the way that we frame our asks.

Ward: We’ve been trying to work on perfecting the ask message around, “If you can afford to support us, please do so, so that our stories remain free for everybody, including those who can’t.” I think there’s an audience for that message. One of the truths is that if part of the purpose of journalism is to hold power to account for what it does, yet you’re trying to raise money philanthropically, and the people who have the money to give it philanthropically are the powerful people. They don’t necessarily want to be held to account.

We’ve been very fortunate at Mountain State Spotlight that a lot of the national “save the journalism” community has been supportive of our work. But one of the things we also heard when we were talking about and conceiving Mountain State Spotlight was a lot of hesitance in the national community that West Virginia was a place that would support much audience and reader revenue. And the people who thought that we’ve proven wrong. West Virginians are giving a lot. The things that keep me going is when we get a check—a paper check, not an online donation, West Virginians like paper checks—a paper check for like $10 from some little old lady from Wheeling. And in the memo on the check, she writes “internet newspaper.”

Owen: Nikki, you wrote your book about a lot of this. Finish us up with your thoughts about public funding and local news.

Usher: One of the biggest takeaways that we need to have is that if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to have an elite democracy where people in power have news about other people in power. And that’s not the kind of democracy that we want. I think we want a representative democracy. I really worry about a dependency on both public funding and nonprofit funding. Public funding worries me because of the deep partisanship in this country, and also the disproportionate number of people who by interpolation could be considered white and liberal who fundamentally support public media in this country. And finally, when we look at the distribution of nonprofit dollars relative to the political slant of places, what we find is a preponderance of basically big city foundations giving to other big cities regardless of journalism needs, so blue places become over-indexed for journalism funding. And these are trends that we really need to think hard about.

Owen: Mike, do you want to respond?

Rispoli: Ken and Nikki nailed the concern. When it comes to whoever is funding the journalism, you have to really think hard about how you’re ensuring that the folks who pay for the journalism don’t influence the editorial product. That is true when it comes to public funding. That is true when it comes to philanthropic support. And it is very true for commercial media when it comes to publishers and advertisers. One of the things that I think is important is, when thinking about any of these new models, how are you ensuring that you are protecting against any sort of interference from people with money and power?

We are right to have questions or concerns about governments giving money to produce local news and information. I do think though that you can protect against that with smart policy design. What we’re seeing with the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium is that the firewalls that were put in place in that legislation are holding up. It’s been giving out grants for the past three years or so, and the things that were put into place to protect it from political interference are, one, it’s an independent nonprofit, so it’s not a government agency. It’s overseen by a bipartisan board of directors. That board of directors does include political appointees, it does include university representatives who are members of the consortium, but it’s also a really large board. It’s 16 members. And the reason why is so that neither political appointees nor university representatives have majority vote. That also allows to protect against any sort of grantmaking as political favors or things like that.

But there are also concerns, and we’ve learned this at the national level with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), where public funding is really, really low. CPB gets an appropriation two years in advance, but even that has led the CPB away from taking risks. It has led to them being at least politically aware of the decisions that they’re making, if not outright influenced. Thinking about ways that public funding can be tied toward direct revenue streams—so that it’s not a yearly or biyearly appropriation—also can help protect it against political interference. In places like California, there was $25 million given to UC Berkeley to create a fellowship program for reporting in underserved and underrepresented areas. So that’s a large endowment from the jump, a few layers removed from government.

What’s different now versus maybe eight years ago when I started at Free Press is that public funding—if I brought that up in a conversation, I would get laughed, or thrown, out of a room. Now, given the state of local news and a recognition that we need to think creatively and think big, public funding went from being a conversation stopper to a conversation starter.

I share the concerns that Nikki raised; we also have to be concerned about depolarization. You saw in West Virginia not too long ago the state stepping in and leading to the firing of a radio reporter at the local NPR affiliate. There are real concerns of political overreach. But I do think that if we’re having a serious conversation about the future of local news and a serious conversation about its importance to our democracy, we do have to be talking about public funding and public policy.

Owen: Thank you all.

Read more about Democracymediastates

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Journalism Lab at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Mike Rispoli is the senior director of journalism and civic information at Free Press, a nonpartisan organization created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media.

Lisa Snowden is the Editor-in-Chief of Baltimore Beat, a digital and print-based news product based in Baltimore City.

Nikki Usher (they/them) is an associate professor in communication at the University of San Diego and a senior fellow at the Open Markets Institute. Their most recent book is News for the Rich, White, and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism (Columbia, 2021).

Ken Ward Jr. is a co-founder of Mountain State Spotlight and a distinguished local reporting fellow with the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica. In 2018, he received a MacArthur Fellowship—the so-called “Genius Grant”—for “revealing the human and environmental toll of natural resource extraction in West Virginia and spurring greater accountability among public and private stakeholders.”

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