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Across the country, a new movement to reimagine local news is taking root. In response to the ongoing decimation of local newspapers, community advocates, media makers and legislators alike are advancing bold policy solutions that put community needs over corporate profits.

One core purpose unites these ideas: ensuring that community members have the news and information they need to organize action, solve problems, hold power to account and feel connected to one another.

The Media Power Collaborative is building power to strengthen local journalism

In January 2024, Free Press Action’s Media Power Collaborative (MPC) hosted eight speakers from coast to coast who are helping lead these efforts to transform the future of local news and civic information:

The goals of the MPC event were two-fold:

  1. Build a collective understanding of the possibilities before us as we build a grassroots policy agenda. 
  2. Establish the MPC as a hub for coordination and support for policy campaigns to strengthen local journalism.

Below is a roundup of the ideas and initiatives that each speaker outlined. Over the course of 2024, the MPC will connect and uplift these efforts as we build power and start shifting the discourse about what it means to save local news.

Local and state campaigns to transform local journalism

Just a day after helping introduce a groundbreaking legislative package to address the local-news crisis in Wisconsin, State Rep. Jimmy Anderson joined the MPC to talk about the bills and why he decided to act.

The first bill would create a Wisconsin Civic Information Consortium to oversee a $20-million grant program to support local journalism and media projects that directly address residents’ civic-information needs. The legislation is modeled after New Jersey’s Civic Information Consortium, which Free Press Action helped establish in 2018.

The second bill would create a journalism-fellowship program affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, in which reporters would be matched with participating newsrooms for paid one-year fellowships. A third bill would offer nonrefundable income-tax credits to Wisconsin residents who subscribe to a qualifying local newspaper, covering 50 percent of the subscription cost.

“I honestly believe that without local journalism, our democracy is in peril,” said Rep. Anderson. “We need people to be informed about what’s happening in their communities so that they can hold people like me accountable if we’re not acting in the best interests of the state.”

After Rep. Anderson spoke, Rashad Mahmood of the New Mexico Local News Fund and Andrew DeVigal of the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center discussed their efforts to secure state support for local news and civic information.

In 2023, Mahmood worked with state lawmakers to allocate $125,000 toward the New Mexico Local News Fellowship Program, a first-of-its-kind investment from the legislature. In the wake of this success, he hopes to secure recurring funding for future years. Mahmood hadn’t worked with state lawmakers prior to these efforts, but found that they were open to addressing the local-news crisis. “Our work is a template that I think anyone can apply to their state, to their local government,” he said.

DeVigal, meanwhile, discussed his work on HB 2605, a bill in Oregon to create a resource center to support local journalists and newsrooms with grants. The legislation would also establish a working group that would produce a report — including policy recommendations — about the state of the journalism industry in Oregon. Due in part to GOP lawmakers’ six-week walkout, the state legislature couldn’t move the bill forward in 2023. Fortunately, the Agora Journalism Center and the Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism are leading a coalition that has committed to advancing the bill in the next funding cycle.

Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union in Seattle, rounded out the panel. Inspired by the city’s adoption of Democracy Vouchers — a campaign-finance reform measure — Wilson and other community leaders are advocating for a new program that would provide each Seattle resident with “coupons” that could support eligible media outlets. The goal, in Wilson’s words, is to “establish a public funding stream for local-news outlets where the funding is allocated by individual residents.” City council members in Washington, D.C., are exploring a similar model.

Emerging trends in the local-news policy arena

The MPC also heard from several speakers who spoke to trends in the national push to support local journalism and plug community-information gaps.

One trend is the growing interest in local-news policy work from civic-engagement and pro-democracy groups. Two leaders from Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots organization committed to good governance, discussed the group’s increasing involvement in local-news policy interventions. Ishan Mehta, media & democracy program director at Common Cause, detailed the group’s success in 2023 in halting a hedge fund from taking over 64 local-TV networks. Maya Chupkov, media & democracy program manager at California Common Cause, talked about the state chapter’s efforts to advance a government advertising set-aside for local and ethnic media outlets. She also discussed a new coalition effort to explore “replanting,” which would incentivize for-profit media outlets to become nonprofits.

Of course, the polarization of political climates across the country also means that building media power looks different from region to region. Samantha Chariz Hamilton, attorney with the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Georgia’s Law School and a board member at the Georgia News Collaborative, spoke to the MPC about her work to bolster local news in a red state. “Rather than taking an affirmative approach in Georgia, it often feels like we’re on the defensive,” she said.

One example: “The [University of Georgia] First Amendment Clinic brought a civil-rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a journalist who was arrested while covering a protest,” said Hamilton. “The city of Atlanta settled the case for over $100,000, and, as part of the settlement, adopted policies to ensure that a similar situation couldn’t happen again.”

Finally, Lisa Macpherson, a senior policy analyst at Public Knowledge, zoomed out to give the MPC a sense of the federal landscape around local-news policy. “It’s important to point out that most federal proposals … are quite focused on legacy, advertising-supported business models and trade associations with political influence,” she said. “Here is what they are not doing enough of: advocating for the types of news outlets that hold the most promise for meeting the needs of communities … or [for] alternative business models that are showing promise, like civic partnerships, and nonprofit and philanthropic models.”

What’s next for the Media Power Collaborative?

In the coming weeks and months, MPC members will develop a policy agenda to guide the group’s work in 2024 and beyond. The campaigns and initiatives the speakers outlined at our January event will be key starting points in that process. 

Interested in joining our movement to transform local journalism and boost access to civic information? Sign up for updates at We’ve got a lot of organizing and exciting programming ahead of us and would love to have you!

Help Free Press Action keep fighting for policies that will give people the news and information they need: Donate today.

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