It all seems simple enough. Folded paper covered with words, photographs, advertising and color.
Every single week, you open your edition of The Riverdale Press, ready to catch up on everything you need to know in your community. Whether it’s some exciting new project taken on by your local lawmakers, to how our great schools are funded, even to some of the personal stories that touch your heart — you can’t imagine a world without your local newspaper.
And you don’t want to imagine a world without your local newspaper.
But local news is at risk. Newspaper newsrooms across the country have been cut in half since 2004, and more than 2,000 newspapers have closed during that time — including nearly half of the weekly newspapers in New York state.
That has led to the rise of “news deserts” — areas in which there is little to no local newspaper coverage. These are communities — just like this one — where everything from civic engagement, public health and safety, cost of government borrowing, and even the survival of small and local businesses and community organizations are under significant threat.
These deserts are also where extreme partisanship and mistrust have grown considerably. A 2020 study by Pew Research Center found Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics, and more likely to hear some unproven claims.
News deserts also lead to higher taxes, since bond rating agencies realize that, without a newspaper “watchdog,” the community is more likely to experience fraud, waste and abuse.
Trust in news is revitalized by ensuring there are professional journalists everywhere. Especially in our own communities. When local residents like you see reporters covering community board meetings, asking questions of local elected officials, and interviewing neighbors about their opinions on matters of public interest, there is a restoration of that confidence that once thrived when it came to the interaction between the press and the community.
But if newspapers are so essential, why are they struggling? Traditionally, advertising makes up a vast majority of a newspaper’s revenue needed to put an edition out each week — most of it in print. Yet, that advertising stream fell 71 percent between 2000 and 2012 as businesses migrated to a digital ecosystem controlled by Google through its monopolistic dominance of online ad sales, brokerage and placement.
Google attracts viewers to its own website by displaying headlines and sections of news articles produced by news organizations like The Riverdale Press, but those viewers don’t tend to click through to the news organizations’ own websites. As a result, Google earns the ad revenue attracted by publication of news, without contributing to any of the costs associated with paying the professional journalists who gather and report the news.
Also, the price of paper and delivery has risen dramatically over the already high inflation — as much as 100 percent
What can you do to help? You’re already doing that by subscribing to and reading The Riverdale Press each week. You frequent the great businesses who advertise in these pages — and maybe even advertise yourself.
But there is a bit more you can do: Contact your Assembly member or state Senator, and tell them to say “yes” to A.2958-A/S.625-A — New York’s Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Time is of the essence, as lawmakers in Albany will finalize the state’s budget in the next week or two.
These bills offer a payroll tax credit — a bridge for transitioning to a new business model — to newspapers based on the number of employed journalists, ensuring that you continue to receive unbiased coverage of the village board meeting, high school soccer game, and more.
Even more, this tax credit doesn’t just help newspapers like The Riverdale Press. It also would be offered to public radio stations as well as to local online and not-for-profit news organizations. And remember: newspapers can be distributed in many ways — from print to online.
In the end, this would save more than 350 newsrooms across New York state some $150 million per year over the next five years, a relatively small piece of the state’s more than $200 billion budget. But for newsrooms — like the one that brings you this very newspaper each week — it could be the difference between survival, or collapse into yet another news desert.
Your neighborhood deserves to be covered by experienced journalists working at a local newspaper — in fact, it’s vital. We all want to live and work in safe, cost-effective, well-run communities. But without a local newspaper, that just won’t happen.