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Reviving Local News: Leaders in the Movement to Preserve and Protect Democracy

A robust local news ecosystem is critical to ensuring a strong democracy. Thank you for joining us for a virtual discussion as we brought together lawmakers, journalists, and stakeholders to share common obstacles and innovative solutions to bridge the gap between local and national responses to revive local news. 

Wrought by a lack of financial resources and ruinous corporate media consolidation, local news coverage is experiencing an existential crisis. Newspapers have been hit the hardest, losing over $35 billion in ad revenue and 47 percent of newsroom staff over the past 15 years. Over 1,800 newspapers have closed, leaving more than three million people with no newspaper at all, and more than at least a thousand have become “ghost newspapers,” with little original reporting.

The importance of local journalism cannot be overstated. Local news outlets have historically functioned as vital governmental watchdogs. They hold elected officials accountable to their constituents and are critical to providing clarity on regional issues. According to one analysis, the act of reading a newspaper alone can effectively encourage 13 percent of non-voters to vote.

This free and public town hall brought together a distinguished group of local news stakeholders and elected officials as they participated in a moderated discussion on what needs to be done to save the news.


Moderator

Nadine Farid Johnson headshotNadine Farid Johnson serves as PEN America’s Washington director. An attorney and advocate with a focus in democracy, human rights, and governance, she has a breadth of experience across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Most recently, she served as executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, where she led the expansion of the affiliate’s advocacy, reach, and impact. She is a former United States diplomat whose work spanned the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and multilateral affairs. Prior to entering public service, she was a professor of constitutional, international, and intellectual property law at Gonzaga University and a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Participants

Charles Blow headshot

Charles M. Blow is an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times where his column appears on Thursdays and Mondays. Mr. Blow’s columns tackle hot-button issues such as social justice, racial equality, presidential politics, police violence, gun control, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Mr. Blow is also a CNN commentator and a Presidential Visiting Professor at Yale, where he teaches a seminar on media and politics. He is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones. The book won a Lambda Literary Award and the Sperber Prize and made multiple prominent lists of best books published in 2014. People Magazine called it “searing and unforgettable.” Mr. Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper’s graphics director, a position he held for nine years. Mr. Blow went on to become the paper’s design director for news before leaving in 2006 to become the art director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Mr. Blow had worked at The Detroit News.

Art Cullen headshot

Art Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and co-owner of The Storm Lake Times, Buena Vista County’s Hometown Newspaper. In 2017, Art was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, “For editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

Art is a native of Storm Lake and earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has more than 38 years of journalism experience and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Storm Lake, Algona, Ames, and Mason City, Iowa. The Storm Lake Times is a family-owned, family-operated newspaper; Art’s brother John is the founder and publisher, Art’s wife Dolores works as a photographer, and Art’s son Tom is a reporter. The Storm Lake Times, with a circulation of 3,000 readers, is the 2nd-smallest newspaper to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Karen Michel headshotKaren Michel is the president and CEO of IndiJ Public Media, a nonprofit news organization that covers the Indigenous world through a digital news site and a weekday newscast. Karen leads the business operations of the company, which owns Indian Country Today, soon to rebranded as ICT. Previously, she worked as the editor and publisher of Madison Magazine, executive editor of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana, and assistant managing editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. She also previously served as the president of the Native American Journalists Association. Michel is recognized nationally for advancing diversity in news coverage and newsroom staffing, and as an advocate for watchdog journalism.

Willoughby Mariano Headshot

Willoughby Mariano is an investigative reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution where she focuses on housing and criminal justice. She recently completed a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, where she studied concepts of housing, home, and identity. Past honors include a National Headliner Award in investigative journalism and the Atlanta Press Club’s award for civil and human rights reporting. Mariano is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association.

Margaret Sullivan headshot

Margaret Sullivan is the media columnist for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, she was The New York Times public editor, and previously the chief editor of the Buffalo News, her hometown paper, where she started as a summer intern. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She was a member of the Pulitzer Prize board from 2011 to 2012, and was twice elected as a director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, where she led the First Amendment committee. While living in Manhattan, Sullivan taught in the graduate schools of journalism at Columbia University and the City University of New York. 

Remarks by Members of Congress

Representative Mark DeSaulier headshot

For the last eight years, Mark DeSaulnier has represented California’s 11th Congressional District, which covers almost all of Contra Costa County. He is a leader in Congress on the issues that matter most to California families, like guaranteeing a livable wage, affordable and accessible education, and ensuring the government is accountable to the public. Congressman DeSaulnier is one of only a few Members of Congress who serves on four House committees. As a member of the Education and Labor Committee, and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), Mark is fighting for our workers and families.

On the Oversight and Reform Committee, he focuses on holding private industry accountable to consumers and the government accountable to its citizens, and he was selected to serve on the Rules Committee where he has the opportunity to weigh in on major pieces of legislation before they are voted on by the House and where he was chosen by his colleagues to serve as Vice-Chair of the Committee. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, he continues his work to decrease congestion, improve our roads and bridges, and increase accountability for taxpayers.

Dating back to his time in local government, Congressman DeSaulnier has a strong interest in a thriving local news industry, and as founder of the Working Group on Saving Local News has introduced the Saving Local News Act (H.R. 6068) to make it easier for newspapers to become nonprofits.

Brian Schatz headshot

Brian Schatz is Hawai’i’s senior United States Senator. Since joining the Senate, he has focused on helping workers, veterans, and families and has led key legislation on health care, climate change, and technology.

Senator Schatz chairs the Indian Affairs Committee, and serves on the Appropriations Committee; the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; the Foreign Relations Committee; and the Select Committee on Ethics. He also serves on the Senate Democratic Caucus’s leadership team as Chief Deputy Whip. Prior to his service in Congress, Senator Schatz was Hawai’i’s Lieutenant Governor and served for eight years in the Hawai’i State House of Representatives. Senator Schatz introduced the Future of Local News Act, legislation aimed at rescuing the struggling local news industry.

headshot of Rep. Marc VeaseyUnited States Congressman Marc Veasey proudly represents Texas’ newly drawn Congressional District 33 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Veasey was appointed in the 117th Congress to serve on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and Armed Services Comittee. Prior to his committee appointments, Rep. Veasey served on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Science Space and Technology.

Throughout his time in Congress, Rep. Veasey founded the first Congressional Voting Rights Caucus to address the immediate need to eliminate the barriers and discrimination too many Americans face at the polls. In the 117th Congress, he accepted his appointment as an Assistant and Regional Whip. In the 117th Congress, the Congressman was appointed to serve as a Whip for the Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce.

Rep. Veasey is currently a member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Congressional Black Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition. He also co-launched the Blue Collar Caucus with Congressman Brendan Boyle to find solutions to problems too many middle-class Americans are facing. The Blue Collar Caucus supports unions and focuses on addressing wage stagnation, offshoring, and job insecurity for those in the manufacturing and building trades.

Congressman Veasey is a champion of local news and introduced the Future of Local News Act to strengthen the sector.

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