Commentary

Local Newsrooms strained by budget-slashing financial firms

(CBS) JON WERTHEIM, February 27, 2022

Newspaper industry in state of decline: not exactly a stop-the-presses headline. For two decades now — owing largely to the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google — fewer and fewer Americans get their news, comics and sports from all those gazettes and tribunes and journals. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s an additional threat: hedge funds and other financial firms that now own nearly a third of the daily papers in America. And these new owners are often committed not to headlines and deadlines, but to bottom lines. One fund in particular has been called by some in the industry a “vulture,” bleeding newspapers dry. It all prompts the question: as local newsrooms and local news coverage shrivel up, to what extent does democracy shrink with it?

Behind the marching band and baton twirlers, at the annual 4th of July parade in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a one-man band: reporter Evan Brandt, snapping photos, taking notes, and gathering quotes.

For the last 24 years, he’s chronicled this community of 23,000 for the local newspaper, the Mercury, which at one time had dozens of reporters. Now, Brandt is literally the last reporter standing in Pottstown.

Jon Wertheim: When a community like this loses their local reporters. What else are they losing?

Evan Brandt: It reminds us all about shared experiences. You know who died, you know who graduated from high school. You know whose kid had a great game. You know those are all important elements about holding people together.

Jon Wertheim: You’re describing the soul of a community?  

Evan Brandt: Sure.

Brandt took us to the old headquarters of the Mercury. Punching above its weight, the Mercury won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 and another in 1990. Now, it looks like this.

Source: CBS News