But we also have provided dozens if not hundreds of stories about local people coping with the outbreak, about teachers and students, about first responders and health care workers, about businesses and displaced employees. Those stories cannot be found elsewhere, and they are essential to a sense of connectedness with our community.
Maybe you think that is important; maybe you don’t. As conservative columnist Cal Thomas argues: “Among the solutions would be for the major media to address the perceived bias by including more conservatives and serious religious people on their staffs as part of ‘diversity’ campaigns. No industry that ignores the concerns of large numbers of the public can long endure.”
That seems like a specious argument. A vast majority of media outlets are not “major,” although public perception of the media is driven by what people see from the big outlets. And it is not only wrong but illegal to consider an applicant’s political or religious affiliation when hiring, say, an education reporter.
Media outlets, specifically local newspapers, are not the only ones hit hard by the coronavirus. Restaurants will close; shops will never reopen; jobs are being lost, many of them never to return. But they are the only ones specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution as essential to democracy. It’s right there in the First Amendment.
Because of that, Sullivan and others have recommended directing federal stimulus money to media outlets suffering from a drop in revenue. Facebook has committed $25 million in emergency grants to local news outlets and $75 million in marketing help. The Seattle Times has written a thoughtful editorial about the need for Congress to revisit a law that allows companies such as Facebook and Google to profit from local news stories without the producers of those stories sharing in the revenue.
As Joshua Benton of the Nieman Lab explains, “Local newspapers are basically little machines that spit out healthier democracies.”
In other words, while I have a dog in the fight, so do you.