San Francisco, CA — California Common Cause announced today the launch of a collaborative effort to strengthen the local and ethnic media sector across the state. The first-of-its-kind initiative, part of California Common Cause’s new Media and Democracy Program, includes the establishment of a workgroup dedicated to creating a resilient local and ethnic media industry that will help foster an informed and civically engaged electorate.
The workgroup will work to bring attention to the dire challenges facing local and ethnic media in California, evaluate policy solutions from around the country and the world, and select the most promising solutions to push forward in California.
“A healthy and vibrant press is key to holding government accountable and ensuring an informed electorate,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “As local journalism continues to decline, misinformation, disinformation, and political polarization is on the rise. This initiative will allow us to get back to governing based on facts, and with a news industry that’s inclusive of every voice in our state.”
Approximately 2,100 newspapers shut down their presses between 2004 and 2019, leaving many communities with no dedicated local news coverage. In California, the number of daily and weekly newspapers declined by almost 25 percent, from 481 in 2004 down to 366 in 2019. Fourteen out of California’s 58 counties either are or are at-risk of becoming “news deserts,” served by one or no local news publications.
“It is critical we have a thriving and strong local and ethnic media sector to tell the stories about how issues impact us on a community level,” said Maya Chupkov, Media & Democracy Program Manager at California Common Cause. “Without a healthy news and information ecosystem, stories will be left untold, and Californians cannot participate fully in their democracy. We must protect journalism in California as a public good.”
Even where California’s communities are still served by a local news source, those new sources are shrinking, with buyouts, mergers, and takeovers by hedge funds. The impact is seen in newspapers of all sizes, from small publications like the Chico Enterprise-Record, where staff levels fell from 45 to 10 full-time workers, up to the Los Angeles Times, which went from over 1,000 journalists and editors in the 1990s to less than 400.
The decaying industry has led to depressed civic participation, the silencing of diverse voices, a lack of accountability for those in power, and increased polarization.