Looking at 2022: “Local news outlets will keep shrinking—and experimenting”

From a Washington Post year in preview story by Elahe Izadi headlined “Local news outlets will keep shrinking—and experimenting”:

A seemingly never-ending pandemic, midterm elections, climate disasters: In these times, we could really use a robust corps of local journalists covering how their communities have been affected.

But the fortunes of the local newspaper industry will continue to decline in 2022, with journalists in remaining newsrooms stretched thin. Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with a reputation for deep cost-cutting and selling of assets to get higher-than-average profit margins, bought the legendary Tribune Publishing Company in 2021 and immediately offered buyouts companywide. Many top editors departed. According to the unions representing Tribune’s journalists, newsrooms shrunk by an average of 20 percent. Alden, already the nation’s second-largest publisher of newspapers, has now set its sights on another major newspaper chain, Lee Enterprises. It insists that it wants to “support newspapers over the long term.” Critics call it a “vulture fund,” and reporters at the unionized Lee Enterprises newsrooms publicly oppose a takeover. Lee’s board has rejected Alden’s first offer, and the hedge fundcountered with a lawsuit. In 2022, shareholders could face a vote on whether to sell the chain.

The situation has been dire for years. Ad revenue has been declining since 2005. Local papers struggled to adapt to the Internet, and other hedge funds swept in. About 6,000 newspaper jobs and 300 papers vanished between 2018 and early 2020, according to a University of North Carolina study.

But 2022 will also be a year of new ventures and projects. Nonprofits such as States Newsroom, which covers state governments, will expand to states such as Alaska and Nebraska. Brand-new outlets will launch, such as the nonprofit Capital B, which aims to provide “high-quality civic journalism tailored to Black communities.” Legacy newspapers like the Chattanooga Times Free Press, facing the increasing cost of printing papers, will continue their programs of giving free iPads and one-on-one training to every subscriber.

We don’t know whether any of these experiments can make up for the loss of local newspapers and their brand of civic watchdog and community reporting. But at least some concerned — and creative — people are trying.

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