Reviving local news: The worst idea

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

America should spend billions to revive local news, writes columnist Perry Bacon Jr. in the Oct. 17 Washington Post:

My vision for addressing the huge decline in local journalism involves hiring 87,000 new journalists for about 1,300 news organizations with more than $10 billion in funding.

… The collapse of local news and information is a crisis undermining the United States’ politics and communities. Ten billion isn’t much money for the United States to spend on … a crisis. …

Where would the $10 billion and all those reporters go? There are five principles for local news that can and should be implemented as widely and quickly as possible:

  • News outlets in communities across the country
  • More outlets with a well-defined, transparent point of view
  • Coverage that is free for everyone
  • A lot of in-depth reporting available in multiple formats and
  • News organizations that are nonprofits.

Bacon’s advice makes my teeth hurt. Here are my vision and organizing principles, based on 50 years of actually doing it:

  • Do not ask any government for any favors, especially money. You take their money; you work for them.
  • Sell as many ads as possible for as little as possible. Spread your risk so you can annoy a few of them at any time without going broke.
  • Put writers’ names on stories and expect readers to know that what they are reading is that writer’s opinion.
  • No subscriptions or paywalls. Make content free to all and gamble that it is good enough that readership grows, bringing value to your advertisers.
  • Don’t bore readers. Being nonprofit does not mean freedom. It just makes you lazy and probably boring.
Advice from Garrison Keillor

And now for some advice from Garrison Keillor. He’s not producing new work, by the way, but is recycling The Writer’s Almanac from days gone by.

Staying alive advice from Jack Anderson: As an investigative reporter with a flair for courting disgruntled low-level government employees and convincing them to sneak him classified documents, he was not especially popular among Washington powerbrokers. Richard Nixon put Anderson on his infamous Enemies List. J. Edgar Hoover called him “lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures.” G. Gordon Liddy plotted his murder.

In 1975, The Washington Post reported that Liddy considered poisoning the aspirin in Anderson’s medicine cabinet; Anderson credited his large family with saving his life: “I had a wife and nine children, and nobody wanted to risk the chance one of them might get a headache,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Writing advice from Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring). She said, “Don’t write about what you know – write about what you’re interested in. Don’t write about yourself – you aren’t as interesting as you think.”

‘Vision’ advice from Auguste Lumière, who, with his brother, invented cinématographe, which was an all-in-one camera, developer and projector. Auguste wasn’t interested in pursuing more motion picture technology. He reportedly said, “My invention can be exploited … as a scientific curiosity, but apart from that it has no commercial value whatsoever.”

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.


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