By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The (re)launch of Rebuild Local News is nothing new. It’s welcome nevertheless.

Steven Waldman

Tuesday’s announcement about a new organization aimed at helping to ease the local news crisis was a bit of a head-scratcher. Here’s the lead of Sara Fischer’s story at Axios:

Local journalism groups representing more than 3,000 local newsrooms have come together to create a new nonprofit that aims to save local news through bipartisan public policy initiatives.

The organization, Fischer continued, is being called the Rebuild Local News Coalition.

Well … OK. Except that the organization has been around for a few years. Way back in July 2021 I quoted Steven Waldman and noted that he was the co-founder of the coalition. Its main policy goals — tax credits aimed at boosting subscriptions and advertising as well as giving publishers incentives to hire and retain journalists — are also nothing new. That’s the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, or LJSA, a federal bill that kicked around for several years before dying at the end of the last Congress. With the House now controlled by press-hating right-wing Republicans, we are not likely to see it resurrected anytime soon.

But if the coalition wants to relaunch and call new attention to its work, so be it. According to this announcement, Waldman is taking a more prominent position — he’ll now be the full-time president, and he’s cutting back on his work at Report for America, which he also cofounded. The coalition has also reorganized as an independent nonprofit.

Ellen Clegg and I talked with Waldman about the Rebuild Local News Coalition and the LJSA on the “What Works” podcast in mid-2022. You can listen to it here, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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  1. pauljbass

    One can only hope that this well-intentioned, misguided organization gets no further with its hedge fund and corporate chain welfare ideas than it has in the past, so that those of us in the trenches can continue to report the news and try to innovate.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Paul, what if the LJSA were rewritten so that size was based on the company rather than the individual outlet — in other words, we’d add up how many people Gannett employed rather than each individual property, which would make them ineligible? Would you support it then? Or is this just a line you’re not willing to cross?

      • pauljbass

        I appreciate the way you think about this with nuance and come up with good suggestions for tweaks. I’m sorry to be so pessimistic. I just don’t trust the enterprise. I don’t trust the national funders and advocacy organizations that want to “save” local journalism by inevitably helping either the remnants of corporate chains and hedge funds are continuing to kill it or crafting policies and funding schemes that seek to replicate what they consider a halcyon era of late 1990s journalism, but which I consider a greedy community killing generic corporate consolidation era that laid the foundation for the internet to deliver the final death knell.

  2. pauljbass

    I’m also allergic to any policy that lets people in government or funders or policymakers who think they can understand good local journalism from afar through the lens of generic outdated concepts decide what is independent reporting that merits government help. I think the bulk of the money will continue to go to the wrong people with counterproductive rules attached to it. I base that opinion not only on the history of this horrible legislation, but on the process and decisions of other efforts launched to “save” (or “hack”) local reporting. We need the helpers to get out of the way and stop trying to help. The only real solution I see is to continue doing reporting on the local level and trying to innovate, and being thankful for people like Dan Kennedy who take the time to truly understand the turf and are supportive. I’m actually optimistic and excited about what can happen outside the aegis of the mainstream corporate-minded gatekeepers. I think great stuff is happening all over the country and will continue to despite the efforts of the rescuers.

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