I have an op-ed piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle urging the nation’s community foundations — which are holding a conference this week in San Francisco — to play a growing role in keeping local journalism vibrant. It starts:
As America wakes up to the crumbling of basic infrastructure, with Minnesota’s bridge collapse the most recent example, a more subtle but also alarming breakdown is hitting our cities and towns. In community after community, newspapers are shedding editorial staff at a rate that spells trouble for a well-informed citizenry, a foundation of a free society.
Unlike the job of building and maintaining roads and bridges, however, ensuring a vibrant press is a questionable role for government, when a key role of journalism is to question power and hold it to account. Nor, as we are seeing, can it be the sole responsibility of the private sector, not when an eroding business model for community journalism leads private owners to favor the bottom line above all other values.
As the nation’s community foundations gather in San Francisco for their annual meeting this week, I’d like to suggest that they put the survival of quality local journalism squarely on their own agendas. They, perhaps more than any other entities, could play a vital role in ensuring that communities emerge from an inevitably messy media transition with the kind of local information sources we all need.