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Use local media for state advertising

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece, written by former Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, was first published in the CT Mirror. Thanks Alex, for the shout-out to NancyOnNorwalk!

The collapse of local news is bad for democracy. Research shows that civic engagement is strongly tied to local news habits, and that communities with less local news have lower voting rates.

And aside from increasing civic apathy, communities with less local news have also been shown to have lower bond ratings and higher taxes, as well as heightened government corruption due to a deficit of the accountability and public pressure that local news reporting provides.

The importance of local news was made clear to me during my terms in public office. As a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1987 to 2001, I witnessed the necessity of comprehensive reporting at both the statewide and community levels to ensure my constituents in Southwestern Connecticut received timely updates on how decisions being made in Hartford would affect their lives.

And as mayor of Norwalk from 2001 to 2005, I saw how vital our local publications were in disseminating everything from proposed school budgets to civic updates on new procedures in City Hall to community-wide notices about opening a new restaurant in SoNo.

Here’s one example I remember perhaps too well! My 2001 mayoral campaign produced the biggest electoral victory in recent Norwalk history as Democrats carried all 15 Common Council members and all Board of Education members. To preserve an alternative political voice in town, our local newspaper editor decided to give the Republican town chairman a monthly column as a bullhorn to criticize my administration. I may not have appreciated it at the time but in retrospect I acknowledge our local media was attempting to amplify alternative voices in our town’s political culture. Those voices may have been silenced but for that local media decision.

Now more than ever, I am convinced that the key to a functioning democracy is local news. As a member of the Common Cause Connecticut Advisory Board, I am committed to promoting civic awareness in our state. One of Common Cause CT’s primary goals is to ensure that government officials are acting in the public interest and not as the result of excessive campaign spending by influential special interests.

Connecticut’s local reporters play a central role in continuing to shed light on lawmakers’ decisions and actions, something that every citizen stands to benefit from. That’s why I am a financial supporter of Norwalk’s hyper-local digital news publication, called “Nancy On Norwalk.” But contributions from well-meaning donors may not be sufficient.

It’s impossible to ignore the instability of newsrooms across the country: At the national level, top papers have had massive layoffs in recent months, while several other major outlets have folded entirely. Here in Connecticut, our local newsrooms are facing similar challenges in supporting newsroom staff. Community-centered reporting is being reduced while coverage shifts to more regional and national reporting.

But all is not lost here in Connecticut. We have the power to reverse this decline and restore resources and stability to the community news outlets that keep us all connected. I am supporting the efforts of lawmakers like Rep. Kate Farrar, who is calling for the passage of a bill to support local press during this year’s legislative session.

The bill currently moving through the General Assembly, Raised Bill No. 5408, aims to support Connecticut-owned media outlets and nonprofit news companies by redirecting existing government advertising into all forms of local media —digital as well as print— and thus allowing for public financing of journalism in Connecticut without compromising editorial independence.

And what’s more, the bill does not require any additional government spending – rather, it merely redirects a portion of existing state government advertising dollars to Connecticut-owned outlets.

This common-sense piece of legislation is new to Connecticut, but it is not new as a concept – both New York City and Chicago have successfully implemented similar policies that require the government to spend a certain amount of its already-budgeted advertising dollars on placements in local news outlets, thereby reinforcing the strength of community-focused news organizations that citizens depend on. Connecticut has the opportunity to set a national standard for funding of local news by being first in the country to pass this legislation at the state level.

As someone who has spent a great deal of both my professional and personal life advocating for increased civic engagement and government accountability, this year’s legislative proposal to support Connecticut’s local news is a pragmatic solution to a trending media problem. I urge members of the General Assembly to support RB5408 as an essential step to protecting a well-functioning and well-informed democracy.

Alex Knopp is a Visiting Clinical Lecturer at Yale Law School. Knopp currently sits on the advisory board of Common Cause Connecticut and is a member of the Rebuild Local News CT Coalition, of which CT Mirror Publisher Bruce Putterman is also a member.

Comments

4 responses to “Use local media for state advertising”

  1. Thanks for writing this Alex. I was unaware that local media could potentially receive state funding. I agree this is crucial. As the Norwalk Hour and News12CT become increasingly obsolete as a source of local news, it’s hard for me to imagine civic life in Norwalk, CT without Nancy on Norwalk having its fingers on the pulse, and keeping us informed.

  2. John O’Neill

    This is actually an opinion piece worth reading..I actually agree with Knopp on this in concept. He had me until he used New York and Chicago as examples of jurisdictions that are currently implementing this funding. Probably two of the most corrupt governments in the U.S. Of course the issue is what government official doles out the advertising dollars and for what type of advertising. Kind of like naming bridges for relatives who happened to be enlisted in the Army during War-Time. Sadly, many politicians can’t be trusted to do the right thing. — But Alex, I do like the concept.

  3. Alex Knopp

    I thank Marc and John for submitting their positive replies. As a correction to the description of my activities added by the editors, my period of teaching at Yale Law School ended in 2020. I appreciate Nancy on Norwalk reprinting this Op Ed and note that Claire Schoen of the NoN Advisory Board also signed up to testify in support of the bill. Alex

  4. John C. Miller Jr.

    I would like to join Marc Allen and John O’Neill in thanking Alex for his excellent op ed and NON for publishing it. The Norwalk Hour has not been the excellent local paper that it once was since it was acquired by Hearst Media. NON and, to some extent, the CT Mirror have been our only options.

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