Local News Legislation
California Common Cause is committed to helping build a resilient, accountable, and inclusive future for local news in our communities.
The local news industry in California is struggling to survive. In cities across the state, newspapers are folding or consolidating and remaining newsrooms are being hollowed out after mass layoffs.
The lack of information flowing to our communities impacts everyone – every group advocating in the public interest or for underserved communities is a stakeholder in ensuring a thriving local press. Preserving and strengthening a durable and diverse local press, including print and online publications, traditional media and ethnic media, is more important than ever to the future of our democracy.
Over the last decade and a half, the dominance of online classifieds and digital advertising have undermined newspapers’ traditional local advertising revenue model. Mergers and layoffs have also led to many surviving local newspapers becoming shells of their former selves. In the last 15 years, the number of newspaper reporters has decreased by almost 60%. Many local papers now exist in name only, sometimes as branded editions of much larger news outlets, with little or no dedicated local journalism presence.
The gaps in local news coverage present a crisis for California’s local and state democracy in several critical ways:
- Depressed Civic Participation: Newspaper closures and staff reductions are associated with decreased civic participation, less informed voting, less interest in political participation, and lower voter turnout.
- Silenced Diverse Voices: Newspapers serving people of color, immigrant communities, and other marginalized groups provide these communities with a voice and help identify and elevate issues of importance.
- Undermined Political Accountability: Local news plays a critical watchdog role in keeping local government accountable and uncovering corruption.
- Undermined Business Accountability: Newspapers also serve a check against powerful non-governmental institutions, like businesses that exploit workers, cheat consumers, or harm the environment.
- Increased Polarization: Without local journalism, voters are more likely to rely on more biased sources for news information, like social media, partisan news publications, cable TV, or talk radio. One study found that newspaper closures increases partisan voting patterns.
California Common Cause is a strong watchdog when it comes to protecting our elections and democratic institutions. Our voting rights work includes pushing back on election deniers and peddlers of misinformation, and working to assist voters as they cast their ballots and educate themselves on civic issues in order to do so. All of this requires a healthy, thriving local press. In particular, responding decisively to combat election disinformation, increasingly the threat of our time, requires strengthening and sustaining our local news ecosystem in California.
MOVING TOWARDS SOLUTIONS
California needs a plan of action for building a resilient, accountable, and inclusive future for local news in our communities. Policy approaches to be explored with our partners working on the local news policy solutions will include, but are not limited to:
- Requiring local government agencies and departments to spend at least 50 percent of existing advertising and communications dollars on community and ethnic media. Advertising with an emphasis on community and ethnic media allows for city departments and agencies to reach diverse communities, does not add costs for the city, and does not make funding dependent on the content produced.
- Creating a “community journalism district” in partnership with the local library to fund local journalism. Journalism districts are established democratically, funded by a local tax, and, to prevent political interference, governed by an independent public board that is accountable to the community they serve. We will explore with local partners if they wish to use community-centered governance models, like participatory budgeting.
- Providing news vouchers to residents that can be given to local news outlets in return for a subscription. City government would then directly pay the news outlet for the value of the voucher.