Local journalism is in crisis. “America’s local news has reached its death spiral phase” proclaimed the Columbia Journalism Review in 2018. Two years later, an oft-cited study out of the University of North Carolina found that some 2,100 community newspapers had ceased publishing since 2004, leaving the country with large swaths of “news deserts” — areas that are unserved by any local news source.

But though the collapse of community journalism is real enough, we believe that its causes are only partly understood. Researchers generally focus on the changes wrought by technology over the past quarter-century — changes that tell an important story, but not the whole story.

It’s true that classified ads offered by Craigslist, a mostly free service, wiped out what had accounted for about 40% of newspaper revenues overnight. And yes, Google and Facebook dominate digital advertising, leaving news organizations to fight over scraps.

Our view, though, is that these challenges would be manageable if it weren’t for corporate greed. Starting in the 1970s, publicly traded chains began taking over newspapers, extracting massive profits and cutting back on coverage, leaving the business unprepared for the deluge that was to come. More recently, hedge funds have moved in, bleeding newspapers of their last remaining revenues rather than investing in the future. Compounding all this is that, in many cases, corporate owners take on massive amounts of debt to build their chains and then extract revenues from their newspapers to pay it down.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whose end in the U.S. may finally be coming into view, resulted in further layoffs, furloughs, and closures, according to the Poynter Institute.

Yet even in the midst of this carnage, innovative, independent local news organizations are serving their communities and providing them with the news and information citizens need to govern themselves in a democracy. Examples include nonprofit startups, news co-ops and even old-fashioned newspapers that are reinventing themselves under local leaders who bought them back from chain owners.

Read the full article about saving community journalism by Ellen Clegg and Dan Kennedy at NiemanLab.