It’s no secret that challenges abound for local news. Shrinking newsroom staffing and local news organizations shuttering their doors due to financial instability are certainly very pressing issues in the American West.
This is why a recent $25 million funding allocation by the California State Legislature is making waves in local journalism circles. It is the largest state investment in local news to date. Stick with us as we make the case for why this matters to New Mexico.
We’d argue the need for strong local news ecosystems is greater than ever. The biggest strength of any newsroom, of course, is its team of journalists who are doing the day-to-day work of keeping their communities accurately informed and, therefore, empowered – important cogs in our nation’s democracy.
But we frequently hear from publishers and broadcasters that there is a disconnect between newsrooms trying to fill employee vacancies and the recent college graduates who’d be most likely to fill them. In particular, newsrooms would prefer candidates with more on-the-job experience than most newly minted grads actually have. And graduates, though eager for a chance at those entry-level jobs, may lack the confidence or full skill sets that would help them thrive in the roles.
Enter into the picture a workforce development initiative we set in place four years ago to help bridge this large gap. Known as the New Mexico Local News Fellowships & Internships Program, the effort pairs recent college graduates (or students, in the case of the internships) with local newsrooms across the state. Using philanthropic support, the New Mexico Local News Fund (NMLNF) pays the fellows’ salaries for nine months.
Though it has existed for only a few years, the fellowships program has been a resounding success. Most of the fellows have gone on to get permanent journalism jobs in New Mexico, rather than leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere – or leaving the profession altogether.
It turns out this disconnect between local news organizations and grads is taking place in other states, too. The California Legislature has allocated $25 million to the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to launch a fellowship program for journalists in that state.
While there are undoubtedly still details to be worked out, we believe the move is important for several reasons. First, it shows that there is widespread interest among decision-makers to counter the erosion of local news. It recognizes the value local news means in our society and our democracy. Secondly, we believe it shows interest on a larger scale in a model that has been shown to work in our own state and for organizations like Report for America, which also invests to place journalists in newsrooms.
And lastly, it represents a significant, direct state investment in local news – indeed, it’s precedent-setting. This last point, in particular, will be crucial to local news nationwide, as efforts by stakeholders to seek public financial support for local news continue to gain traction.
Since last year, NMLNF has been working to develop a proposal to put forward to the New Mexico State Legislature that would seek funding to not only maintain our own journalism fellowships program, but expand upon it by incorporating other fields, like business and computer science, that will also be critical to newsrooms’ success moving forward.
The New Mexico Local News Fund (www.nmlocalnews.org) is based in Albuquerque.