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Annenberg School for Communication professor Victor Pickard led the panel.

Credit: Emily Xu

The Annenberg School for Communication hosted a discussion panel on the decline of local journalism outlets on Thursday.

The panel, led by Annenberg professor Victor Pickard, discussed how these small media outlets are declining past the point of recovery, causing communities to become less politically engaged and breeding local government corruption.

Annenberg professor Victor Pickard led the panel with a discussion about his new book, "Democracy Without Journalism? Confronting the Misinformation Society." In his keynote presentation, Pickard discussed the consequences of the "loss of journalism" for local communities. He said that because less people are working in the newspaper industry and purchasing local newspapers, the local news industry is in a rapid decline. 

Pickard said the breakdown of local journalism has caused people to become “less informed about politics, less civically engaged, less likely to go vote." He said there is a rise of corruption and mismanagement of local governments because of the lack of oversight that local news outlets provide.

"Communities become more polarized because they rely more on national news," Pickard said.

He cited the Pew Research Center's 2016 claim that journalism's "accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return."

"For Pew to say that really speaks volumes," Pickard said. "They'll always try to find a silver lining, they tend to be very conservative in their analyses. This was four years ago, and they were already saying we've hit a point of no return."

Credit: Emily Xu

The four panelists discussed the ways journalism has changed and how news has become more commercialized.

The panel consisted of Pickard; Ellen Goodman, professor of Law at Rutgers University; Chenjerai Kumanyika, assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University; and Barbie Zelizer, Raymond Williams professor of Communication and director of the Center for Media at Risk at Annenberg. The majority of attendees were Annenberg graduate students and professors. 

In the panel discussions, the speakers discussed the various ways that journalism has changed, including the belief that podcasts can help revive the journalism industry. 

Kumanyika said that although podcasts seem like an alternative to journalism, it will not be a sufficient method to inform the public. He said podcast speakers are not trained in the same structured way journalists are and would not be a reliable source to provide news. 

The panel also discussed how news has become more commercialized, which can conflict with the integrity of journalism. The panel said most newspaper companies rely on advertisements to support their business and therefore give in to the demands of the ad companies.

Pickard said that people subscribing to their local papers is not sustainable enough for the industry to revive itself — instead, he said the solution is for the government to provide subsidies to local media outlets. He referenced the governments of other countries, such as Japan, that have successfully maintained local journalism through these subsidies.

"The U.S. is a global outlier for how little we support our public media system," Pickard said.

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