Local News and Democracy

 We regularly add new items to the Legislation We're Following and News About Local News sections. Please check back regularly for updates!

Local news reporting plays a pivotal role in the health of our communities—and our democracy.

Extensive research, including a two-year study by the League of Women Voters of Washington, reports on the benefits of credible news sources that keep us up to date about what’s happening in our neighborhoods, at City Hall, in boardrooms and workplaces, in our schools and on our sports fields: Because of their reporting, we’re more likely to vote, be more engaged in our communities, see more candidates seek office, and be less likely to hold polarizing political viewpoints.

Studies also show a link between quality local news coverage and stronger public health campaigns and better oversight of government spending.

After thorough study and discussion known as reaching consensus, the 2,400-member League adopted a public policy on local news: “The League of Women Voters of Washington believes it is the responsibility of the government to provide support for conditions under which credible local journalism can survive and thrive.”

Several factors prompted the League’s study, “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy,” and the subsequent adoption of our public policy position. Among them was Washington’s loss of three daily and more than two dozen weekly newspapers between 2005 and 2022. Also motivating our efforts is newsroom staffing across the state decreased by two-thirds, resulting in considerably less coverage.

In the League’s call for support for local news, we don’t distinguish between news published in print on paper or online: “The League supports credible and ethical local journalism, in whatever format it is published, as essential to our democracy.” Important, too, is that regardless of the source of support or assistance, the League is adamant that “control of a publication’s content must remain exclusively with the news organization.”

Check back regularly to this page to learn more about our efforts to pursue this important mission—and how you can be involved.

Get the Study

“The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy” is available for download as a free PDF .

The study also can be purchased as a paperback book for $9.52 from Amazon.com and for $1.99 as a Kindle edition, also from Amazon.com .

The use or distribution of this study by individuals or other organizations does not constitute the League’s endorsement.

A Quick Look at the Study

Legislation We're Following

  • Following Australia’s lead, Canada passed legislation in late June requiring Big Tech companies to negotiate fair compensation with newspaper publishers for content the tech companies use on their platforms. Although tech companies are fighting Canada’s Online News Act, Canadian minister of Heritage Pablo Rodriguez recently urged other countries to pass similar legislation. The issue of fair compensation to newspapers for their original content continues to brew in the United States, where the Senate Judiciary Committee last month approved the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The act would require similar compensation in the United States. A showdown is expected in Congress this fall. Read an interview by the Seattle Times’ Brier Dudley with the Canadian minister of Heritage.

  • California’s Journalism Protection Act, AB 886 , would direct digital advertising giants to pay news outlets a “journalism usage fee” when they sell advertising alongside news content. The bill also would require publishers to invest 70% of the profits from that fee in journalism jobs.
    • Passed in the Assembly on June 1, 2023.
    • Ayes 55
    • Nos 6
    • NVR 19
  • In late April, led by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, and Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, the Washington Legislature appropriated $2.4 million to establish a new public-interest journalism fellowship program at the Washington State University Edward R. Murrow College of Communication. Each year over the next two years, the program is expected to place eight recent graduates in two-year paid reporting positions at news outlets that lack local coverage.

  • Washington state Senate Bill 5199  passed in April 2023 and signed by the governor May 4, 2023, eliminates the business and occupation tax for publishers—print and online—for 10 years, beginning in January 2024. It replaces legislation that was set to expire in July 2024 that granted newspaper publishers a preferential tax rate.
    • The Senate vote was 47-1
    • The House vote was 89-7

News About Local News

We provide these links about developments related to local news because of the LWVWA newly adopted position. As our recent study “The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy” found, local newspapers play a crucial role in supporting healthy communities and healthy democracies. LWVWA encourages you to subscribe to your local paper if you are able.

  • Google and the Canadian government have reached an agreement on a plan by which the Big Tech firm will compensate news companies $100 million annually in exchange for the ability to continue publishing news content on its platform. The pact follows the passage of C-18, the Online News Act, which was designed to boost struggling news outlets hit hard by social media’s practice of publishing the outlet-produced original content. (CBC, November 29, 2023)

  • Lawmakers returning to Olympia for the legislative session that begins in early January will be greeted by a decidedly different press corps than from years past , according to an op-ed piece in the Olympian newspaper discussing the news crisis’ impact on democracy. (November 29, 2023)

  • Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat links low voter turnout in the November 2023 primary election in Kent with the loss of local newspapers in his column. (November 29, 2023)

  • Philanthropy is increasingly becoming a linchpin in the preservation of independent journalism , according to a guest editorial in The Seattle Times. (November 24, 2024)

  • The Columbian: In southwest Washington, the League of Women Voters of Clark County and the Fort Vancouver Regional Library hosted a mid-November community conversation asking, “Does Local News Even Matter?” The answer was a resounding yes. Take a read of a write-up of the event. (November 18, 2024)

  • PBS Newshour: Steve Waldman, president and founder of Rebuild Local News and Report for America, both nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations, offers a three-minute “A Brief But Spectacular” take on how to rebuild local news. (November 10, 2023)

  • Google and Facebook owe U.S. news outlets at least $12 billion a year for the content the Big Tech firms post on their platforms, according to a new study by professors at Columbia University and the University of Houston. The report, detailed by Free Press editor Brier Dudley in the Nov. 8, 2023, Seattle Times, offers a reflection on the degree to which local news publishers are harmed as the local news crisis continues. 

  • Penelope Muse Abernathy of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism is the pre-eminent researcher on the local news crisis. In a speech this summer at the Monadnock Summer Lyceum, Abernathy tackles the question of “Can Our Democracy Survive Without Local Journalism?” She also salutes the League of Women Voters of Washington for its study of the crisis. Abernathy’s speech begins about 30 minutes into the video. She takes questions from the audience at 1:21 minutes. (August 13, 2023)

  • The Seattle Times’ Brier Dudley reports on a recent survey by Pew Research Center, which reports that fewer Americans are paying attention to the news . Seven years ago, 51 percent of U.S. adults followed the news “all or most of the time.” Pew found that number fell to 38 percent last year. Dudley notes that we’re experiencing a two-decade decline in local news coverage that’s resulting in civic illiteracy and disengagement and eroding democracy. (October 27, 2023) 

  • Earlier this month, lawmakers in Salem heard details about the troubling local news crisis in Oregon, including the sobering fact that more than two-thirds of the state’s incorporated cities lack a local news source.
    Writing Oct. 20, 2023, in The Astorian newspaper, veteran journalist Dick Hughes reported on testimony before the state House Rules Committee by the executive director of the nonprofit Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism.
    “Oregon is in a news crisis and it’s about to get worse,” Jody Lawrence-Turner told the representatives. In addition to the lack of news outlets covering incorporated cities, Hughes reported that more than a quarter of Oregon’s small-town newspapers have closed.
    Two counties—Sherman and Wheeler—are full-fledged news deserts without any local news outlet. Many others have only one. (October 20, 2023)

  • Seattle Times’ Free Press: The 49-year-old year Seattle Gay News, which was facing closure, has a new lease on life with its acquisition earlier this month by Seattle accountant Mike Schultz. Schultz purchased the paper from the daughter of founder George Bakan, who died in 2020. Schultz has renamed the paper SGN and will expand its distribution to Spokane, Bellingham and Ocean Shores, where Schultz resides. (October 12, 2023)

  • Washington Post: Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr. seeks some bright developments in the work to restore local news , including the birth of nonprofits, philanthropic support and greater awareness that success depends on all of us. (October 6, 2023)

  • Philanthropic efforts are playing an increasingly larger role in addressing the local news crisis across the country and in the state. In the Yakima Valley region, in the three years since the creation of the Yakima Free Press Campaign, area residents have contributed to boost local coverage by the Herald-Republic, El Sol de Yakima and Radio KDNA. Area donors, along with gifts from the Microsoft Corporation and others, have led the campaign to collect more than $575,000, according to this op-ed in the Oct. 1, 2023, edition of the Yakima Herald-Republic. Next steps include seeking grant money from various sources, including national non-profits, to expand digital access to the Herald-Republic to low-income residents and to expand the paper’s award-winning coverage of missing and murdered indigenous people and new investigative reporting on environmental issues. Meanwhile, the Yakima Valley Community Foundation, which organized and leads the Yakima Free Press Campaign, is also working to engage more local news readers by way of a variety of additional platforms. (October 1, 2023)

  • Newspapers owned by hedge funds and private equity firms now account for half of the newspaper circulation in the United States now . That development is prompting calls for new policies to help local newspapers remain in the hands of local owners. Here’s what Steve Waldman, founder of Rebuild Local News, suggests in this opinion piece published in Poynter. (September 28, 2023)

  • Seattle Times’ Free Press editor Briar Dudley reports in his column on a recent Pew Research study about the complex picture of Black Americans’ experiences with news . (September 28, 2023) 

  • A $500 million effort funded by 20 nonprofits will give a much-needed boost to local news outlets over the next five years. The launch of the Press Forward campaign , led by the MacArthur Foundation and featuring contributions from organizations including the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, was reported Sept. 7 by several news publications. Press Forward officials cited the challenges facing communities and our democracy as a result of the local newspaper crisis. (NY Times, September 7, 2023)

  • Eager for students to learn to distinguish fact from fiction in media and from other sources, the University of Montana has picked a clever title for one of its courses. "Calling Bullshit" is a first-year class about mis-information . Montana faculty borrowed the title from the University of Washington, which also offers a similarly titled class. (Missoula Current, September 5, 2023)

  • U.S. Sen. Patty Murray supports tax credits to help local news outlets survive and thrive , according to a recent column by The Seattle Times’ Briar Dudley. Writing Aug. 9, Dudley says Murray told the Times’ editorial board the previous day that she “strongly” supports the bipartisan Community News and Small Business Support Act introduced last month by Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York and Democrat Suzan DelBene from Washington.
    Sen. Maria Cantwell is expected to introduce a Senate version of H.R. 4756 later this year. The new bill would provide a tax credit up to $25,000 per newsroom job retained in the first year and up to $15,000 yearly over the next four years. It would also provide tax credits to small businesses advertising in local news outlets; they’d receive up to $5,000 in the first year and $2,500 the next four. (August 9, 2023)

  • Seattle Times columnist Marcus Harrison Green, who founded the South Seattle Emerald newspaper, penned an inspiring piece in late July in The Times about the value of news publications , specifically local news operations, noting they function as a "compass to navigate change" and remove us from the "murk of an existing condition to the dazzle of a fulfilled promise." (July 24, 2023)

  • Oregon Public Broadcasting takes a look at challenges facing local newspapers in small towns in the Pacific Northwest , including the La Conner Weekly News. In doing so, the National Public Radio station references the League of Women Voters of Washington study on the decline of local news and its impact on democracy. (July 20, 2023)

  • The New York Times reports an increasing trend in which local officials unhappy with newspaper coverage are responding by revoking contracts for publishing public notices . “It’s gotten worse over the years in terms of trying to use contracts and laws to lash out at newspapers,” said Richard Karpel, the executive director of the Public Notice Resource Center, a nonprofit group focused on promoting government transparency. (June 18, 2023)

  • NiemanLab reports that the Star Tribune in Minneapolis is offering a free one-year digital subscription to all Minnesota high school graduates this year. The goal is to bolster its digital growth and demonstrate to young adults the importance of local news, Star Tribune officials said. The offer is part of the paper’s Newspapers in Education initiative. (June 8, 2023)

  • Poynter.com: Steven Waldman, president of Rebuild Local News and co-founder of Report For America, takes a comprehensive look at how local news outlets—with their focus on local government as well as neighbor doings, every-day people and local sports teams’ wins and losses—play a vital role in building community , a crucial element in our effort to defend democracy. (June 5, 2023)

The LWVWA Local News Position (adopted 2023)

Position in Brief

The League of Women Voters of Washington believes it is the responsibility of the government to provide support for conditions under which credible local journalism can survive and thrive.

The League of Women Voters of Washington defines local news as accurate, in-depth coverage of government entities, including but not limited to, city councils, county councils, county boards of commissioners, health departments, schools, and school boards.


LN-1: The League supports credible and ethical local journalism, in whatever format it is published, as essential to our democracy.

LN-2: The League of Women Voters of Washington supports efforts to ensure everyone has access to information necessary for casting an informed ballot and that credible local news sources are integral to this pursuit.

LN-3: The League of Women Voters of Washington believes that support for the viability of local news may take a variety of forms. Control of the content must remain exclusively with the news organizations.

LN-4: The League of Women Voters of Washington also believes media literacy and news education, including support for journalism students, is essential. These opportunities should be expanded in schools and throughout communities.

LN-5: The League of Women Voters of Washington believes that everyone should have access to comprehensive, credible local news and that barriers to access should be removed. These barriers include, but are not limited to, geography, economic status, and education.

Events Calendar

Would you like a representative from the League’s local news study committee to speak to your organization or at a community event? Learn how to request a speaker from the League.

The League of Women Voters of Washington is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization.
The League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. LWVWA Education Fund contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law. The League of Women Voters Education Fund does not endorse the contents of any web pages to which it links.

League of Women Voters of the United States

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