Around New England

State Legislators To Local Newspapers:  We’re From the Government and We’re Here To Help

July 30, 2019

A bill before the Massachusetts Legislature would establish a legislative commission to study communities “underserved by local journalism” and “review all aspects of local journalism” including “the adequacy of press coverage of cities and towns.”

Massachusetts Senate Bill 80 calls for the proposed commission to come up with “strategies to improve local news access, public policy solutions to improve the sustainability of local press business models and private and nonprofit solutions, and identifying career pathways and existing or potential professional development opportunities for aspiring journalists in Massachusetts.”

The bill is before the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Businesses of the state Legislature.

It is designed to address what a University of North Carolina journalism professor called last year “news deserts.”

The report defines a “news desert” as “a community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

Massachusetts has experienced a 15 percent decline in the number of newspapers between 2004 and 2019, according to the report, titled “The Expanding News Desert,” by Penelope Muse Abernathy.

There are two fewer dailies and 36 fewer weeklies in Massachusetts, according to the report.

Circulation has dropped 39 percent in Massachusetts, from 3.2 million in 2004 to 2 million in 2019, according to the report.

Local newspapers have been hit hard by the Internet, which has taken away classified ads and other types of advertising. In addition, young people tend not to read newspapers as much as their predecessors did.

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