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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Free Press released a detailed research paper calculating the costs resulting from the tens of thousands of laid-off reporters in the United States over the past 15 years.

In the paper, How Big Is the Reporting Gap?, Free Press quantifies what has been lost at the core of local journalism’s mission — reporting — to guide policymakers on what they should work to restore. Free Press argues that journalism’s market-driven model is no longer capable of employing a sufficient number of reporters and calls for a greater public investment in news production to help put journalists back to work.

According to the study, since 2005 the United States has lost approximately 15,000 to 21,000 local reporting jobs at an annual lost-wage value of $830 million to $1.2 billion. Empirical research strongly suggests that this decline in journalism output has had a range of societal harms that threaten the health of our democracy.

Free Press recognizes that the legacy news-production industry has not successfully transitioned to the online realities of news consumption. The paper prioritizes journalists regardless of media and quantifies the costs required to get them back to work in the numbers needed to meet local demand for news and information.

Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner, who authored the paper, made the following statement:

“We've all seen the daunting headlines about the hundreds of thousands of lost newspaper jobs. The massive losses in the news-production industry can make characterizing and fixing the problem seem impossible. But it’s not: For a tiny percentage of the cost of recent recovery and bailout bills, policymakers could put journalists back to work, help diversify newsrooms and give communities the information they need.

“In How Big Is the Reporting Gap?, Free Press measures how the employment of reporters in all media has changed. Our analysis takes note of the growth of online-only reporting in order to fully quantify the actual loss in people and dollars across the industry. Going forward, policymakers shouldn’t focus simply on propping up an industry. Instead, they should devote resources to supporting in-depth local journalism. As we show in our report, that’s what’s been lost over the past 15 years: reporting jobs.

“At a time when Congress is spending massively, we can see that closing the reporting gap isn’t such a daunting task after all, at least in terms of cost. An additional $1 billion per year could bring back much-needed reporting at a time when people need it desperately.

“The journalism industry — particularly quality local reporting on important civic matters — will not produce the output needed for a healthy democracy without a substantial increase in public funding. Considering the societal value of in-depth local journalism, there’s no excuse for continued inaction. Policymakers must step up now to address local journalism’s fiscal crisis.”

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