In another hit to local news coverage, East Bay Times will be suffering severe cuts to its editorial staff with recent buyouts and upcoming layoffs.
Last month, Bay Area News Group announced it would be making significant layoffs to its reporting staff, following 28 buyouts of senior staff members, including seven from the East Bay Times (approximately one quarter of its staff), according to the East Bay Express. The Daily Californian reports that the reason for this decision is unclear, with BANG’s executive editor citing a decline in revenue, while Carl Hall, executive officer for the Pacific Media Workers Guild, points to BANG’s ownership by hedge fund Alden Global Capital and its efforts to maximize short term profits.
Regardless of the logic behind the cuts, the injustice is immediately clear in the outcome: engaged, local audiences who value news about their communities will get less of what they want, and communities will be set back in efforts to be informed and engaged.
Local news isn’t suffering institutional setbacks due to a lack of interest. In the United States, 82 percent of respondents said they follow local news closely in a recent report by the Pew Research Center. And this is a good thing. Local news consumption and voter turnout in local elections are statistically related, according to another Pew study.
Although damaging and unnerving, the cuts, under Bay Area News Group’s management, are not unprecedented. One notable round of layoffs at EBT was shortly after the paper won a Pulitzer for their dogged coverage of the Ghost Ship fire and its aftermath. The value of civic engagement and informed local communities can’t be measured in economic terms. It’s little shock that a hedge fund would see little value in robust local coverage without a way to monetize it, especially since robust reporting should hold special interests accountable.
Philip Graham, the deceased Washington Post publisher, is quoted as saying “journalism is the first draft of history.” If journalism, especially on the local level, continues to unravel due to economic pressures, future historians will likely look back on our society as composed of complete idiots, who subvert our own interests in order to follow economic trends. In the Bay Area, they will see a population who has appeared in many ways to stand against the ills of the Trump presidency, but with a local media whose management was entirely complicit in Trump’s quest to undermine the free press.