Resurrecting Local News: A Call to Action

Alina Alam, Staff Reporter

Nowadays, scrolling through Twitter’s trending page is the only thing keeping me updated on the outside world. For you, it might be TikTok, cable news or overheard conversations at the dinner table. But between the flashy headlines in our pockets and partisan news channels, is there still a place left for unbiased news? 

Think about it: We have information coming at us 24/7. It isn’t news, yet we’re obsessed. Every morning, politicians are subtweeting each other, the president is spreading another falsehood, and people are arguing over the virus. But that isn’t news, it’s gossip—fake news, even. 

So where can we get clear-cut, factual information?

Believe it or not, that place is local news. Not local television, but local newspapers. That stuff piling up in your mailbox is more important than you think, and right now, local newspapers are suffering more than ever. 

Local newspapers are collapsing due to leveraged buyouts—or LBO’s—by private equity firms. Essentially, these firms are the grim reapers of American journalism. Currently, more than 700 American newspaper companies are owned by them. 

Private equity firms buy newspaper companies with loans then lay off journalists and sell the papers’ assets to squeeze profit out of them. When those newspaper companies eventually start struggling, the firms stack the remaining debt on them and leave them to suffer. Moreover, due to the LBO agreement, if the paper goes bankrupt, the private equity firms aren’t liable for anything. 

The cycle goes on and on, and the government quietly lets it continue.

In 2018, five Virginia newspaper companies, alive for 673 years combined, shut their doors. When asked why, every owner said it was “no longer commercially viable.” But it’s not just Virginia newspapers that are losing traction. In total, the U.S. has lost more than 2,000 papers since 2004, and more than 35,000 Americans in the news industry have been laid off. 

The next time you watch cable news, listen closely and you’ll notice how often they credit local newspapers while breaking news. Almost all the headlines you read come from small town newsrooms. Without them, the country would miss out on major stories. 

To put it into perspective, the Epstein & R. Kelly stories were both broken by a local newspaper. 

From out-of-context videos to claims made with zero proof, we’re living in a vacuum of immeasurable amounts of misinformation on every media platform. If we want the world to start fact-checking and holding individuals and organizations accountable, we have to keep local investigative journalism and newspapers from dying.


Here are ways you can help keep local newspapers alive: 

DONATE: helps you support local NPR & PBS stations.

PARTICIPATE: Ask your local newsrooms whether they need volunteers, feedback on how to improve their reporting, or help to review public records and files. Create new ideas for payment platforms if you’re tech/business-savvy! 

VOTE: Private equity firms are killing the news industry, and the best way to take away their power is through voting against predatory practices like leveraged buyouts, and encouraging the government to allow local newspapers to be labeled as non-profit and tax-funded organizations. 

As Chuck Plunkett says, “When local news dies, so does democracy.” 

The choice is in our generation’s hands. Either we let democracy rot or we water it.