When local news dies, so does democracy | Chuck Plunkett

When local news dies, so does democracy | Chuck Plunkett

Transcriber: Ivana Korom
Reviewer: Krystian Aparta I’ve been a journalist
for more than 23 years, at the “Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,” the “Pittsburgh Tribune Review” and most recently, “The Denver Post.” (Applause) When I started
at “The Denver Post” in 2003, it was among the country’s
10 largest newspapers, with an impressive subscriber base and nearly 300 journalists. At the time, I was in my 30s. Any ambitious journalist that age aspires to work for one
of the big national papers, like “The New York Times”
or “The Wall Street Journal.” But I was simply blown away by my first few weeks
at “The Denver Post,” and I thought,
“This is going to be my paper. I can make a career right here.” Well, seven years passed, we were sold to a hedge fund, Alden Global Capital. Within a few years — (Laughs) (Laughter) Some of you know this story. (Laughter) Within a few years, buyouts ordered by past and present owners would reduce the newsroom by nearly half. And I understood. The rule of thumb used to be
that 80 percent of a newspaper’s revenue came from pricy print ads and classifieds. With emerging giants like Google
and Facebook and Craigslist, those advertizing dollars
were evaporating. The entire industry was undergoing
a massive shift from print to digital. Alden’s orders were to be digital first. Take advantage of blogs,
video and social media. They said that one day, the money we made online would make up
for the money we lost in print. But that day never came. In 2013, we won a Pulitzer Prize for covering the Aurora theater shooting. Alden ordered that more
journalists be cut. Again, and again, and again, and again. We were forced to say goodbye
to talented, hardworking journalists we considered not just friends but family. Those of us left behind
were stretched impossibly thin, covering multiple beats
and writing rushed articles. Inside a windowless meeting room
in March of 2018, we learned that 30 more would have to go. This paper that once had 300 journalists would now have 70. And it didn’t make sense. Here, we’d won multiple Pulitzer Prizes. We shifted our focus
from print to digital, we hit ambitious targets and email from the brass
talked up the Post’s profit margins, which industry experts pegged
at nearly 20 percent. So if our company was so successful
and so profitable, why was our newsroom getting
so much smaller and smaller? I knew that what was happening in Colorado
was happening around the country. Since 2004, nearly 1,800 newsrooms have closed. You’ve heard of food deserts. These are news deserts. They are communities,
often entire counties, with little to zero
news coverage whatsoever. Making matters worse, many papers have become ghost ships, pretending to sail with a newsroom but really just wrapping ads
around filler copy. More and more newsrooms are being sold off
to companies like Alden. And in that meeting, their intentions
couldn’t have been clearer. Harvest what you can, throw away what’s left. So, working in secret
with a team of eight writers, we prepared a special
Sunday Perspective section on the importance of local news. (Laughter) The Denver rebellion
launched like a missile, and went off like a hydrogen bomb. [In An Extraordinary Act Of Defiance, Denver Post Urges Its Owner
To Sell The Paper] [‘Denver Post’ Editorial Board
Publicly Calls Out Paper’s Owner] [On The Denver Post,
vultures and superheroes] (Applause and cheers) Clearly, we weren’t alone in our outrage. But as expected, I was forced to resign. (Laughter) And a year later, nothing’s changed. “The Denver Post”
is but a few lone journalists doing their admirable best
in this husk of a once-great paper. Now, at least some of you
are thinking to yourself, “So what?” Right? So what? Let this dying industry die. And I kind of get that. For one thing, the local news
has been in decline for so long that many of you may not even remember what it’s like to have
a great local paper. Maybe you’ve seen
“Spotlight” or “The Paper,” movies that romanticize
what journalism used to be. Well, I’m not here
to be romantic or nostalgic. I’m here to warn you
that when local news dies, so does our democracy. And that should concern you — (Applause and cheers) And that should concern you, regardless of whether you subscribe. Here’s why. A democracy is a government of the people. People are the ultimate source
of power and authority. A great local newsroom acts like a mirror. Its journalists see the community
and reflect it back. That information is empowering. Seeing, knowing, understanding — this is how good decisions are made. When you have a great local paper, you have journalists sitting in
on every city council meeting. Listening in to state house
and senate hearings. Those important but, let’s face it, sometimes devastatingly boring
committee hearings. (Laughter) Journalists discover the flaws
and ill-conceived measures and those bills fail,
because the public was well-informed. Readers go to the polls and they know the pros and cons
behind every ballot measure, because journalists
did the heavy lifting for them. Even better, researchers have found
that reading a local paper can mobilize 13 percent
of nonvoters to vote. Thirteen percent. (Applause) That’s the number that can change
the outcome of many elections. When you don’t have a great local paper, voters are left stranded at the polls, confused, trying to make their best guess
based on a paragraph of legalese. Flawed measures pass. Well-conceived but highly
technical measures fail. Voters become more partisan. Recently in Colorado, our governor’s race had more candidates
than anyone can remember. In years past, journalists would have thoroughly vetted, scrutinized, fact-checked,
profiled, debated every contender in the local paper. “The Denver Post” did its best. But in the place of past levels
of rigorous reporting and research, the public is increasingly
left to interpret dog-and-pony-show stump speeches
and clever campaign ads for themselves. With advertizing costing what it does, electability comes down to money. So by the end of the primaries, the only candidates left standing
were the wealthiest and best-funded. Many experienced
and praise-worthy candidates never got oxygen, because when local news declines, even big-ticket races become pay-to-play. Is it any surprise that our new governor was the candidate worth
more than 300 million dollars? Or that billionaire businessmen
like Donald Trump and Howard Schultz can seize the political stage? I don’t think this is what
the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked about free
and fair elections. (Applause and cheers) Now this is exactly why we can’t just rely
on the big national papers, like “The Journal”
and “The Times” and “The Post.” Those are tremendous papers, and we need them now,
my God, more than ever before. But there is no world
in which they could cover every election in every county
in the country. No. The newsroom best equipped
to cover your local election ought to be your local newsroom. If you’re lucky and still have one. When election day is over, a great local paper is still there,
waiting like a watchdog. When they’re being watched, politicians have less power, police do right by the public, even massive corporations
are on their best behavior. This mechanism that for generations
has helped inform and guide us no longer functions the way it used to. You know intimately what the poisoned
national discourse feels like, what a mockery of reasoned
debate it has become. This is what happens
when local newsrooms shutter and communities across the country
go unwatched and unseen. Until we recognize
that the decline of local news has serious consequences for our society, this situation will not improve. A properly staffed
local newsroom isn’t profitable, and in this age of Google and Facebook, it’s not going to be. If newspapers are vital to our democracy, then we should fund them
like they’re vital to our democracy. (Applause and cheers) We cannot stand by
and let our watchdogs be put down. We can’t let more communities
vanish into darkness. It is time to debate
a public funding option before the fourth estate disappears, and with it, our grand
democratic experiment. We need much more than a rebellion. It is time for a revolution. Thank you. (Applause and cheers)


100 thoughts on “When local news dies, so does democracy | Chuck Plunkett”

  • About halfway through I saw where this was going. He starts off by saying that the jib of local news was to filter information to tell the stupid people what to think. Then he goes on to say that it turns out that such ridiculous behavior is not profitable when people are given access to more balanced news nationally. So then the solution is to have the government run the local news. Really? You've got to be kidding me!? When I find a way to make a local news balanced and profitable? That's the solution.

  • matthew hamilton says:

    The answer is not going to be government funding. State funded news is propaganda and if you think it is bad now wait until you see a paper that only covers incumbent officials and proposals that expand government exclusively.

  • canigetachannel says:

    We don't live in a Democracy. <—period
    We live in a Constitutional Republic.
    Throughout history collectivism is, and always has been, wrong. We are all equal, not the masses/majority. Quit hiding behind crowds and stand up for yourselves. Love your neighbor as yourself and stop subjugating others through your ideology of "mob rules". You came into this world with nothing and that's how you'll leave. May you know the Truth and may He set you free.

    (filthyrags, 2020)

  • Please, stop all the hatred for people of other countries or ethnicities, we see how the governments around the world function and at the bottom of our hearts we all know that there isn't a best one but there is one that each person recognize the most, that's enough for us to live a fulfilling life, right? We are only human beings with limited knowledge about the world, there are so many things we cannot understand. That's why we really need to learn to be humble and open-minded so that we can become a cohesive group to live with the Earth.

  • michelle grinder says:

    thats ironic…i thought the media thats full of communist sympathizers spewing communist propaganda and sowing discord among the populace is the threat to democracy….oh thats it….u must be stating democratic in the same manner as east germany was called the german democratic republic and peoples democratic republic of n korea….thats the democracy u speak of

  • Dear Ted, please stop with these political videos about how society is failing. Ted Talks used to be about creative ideas, revolutionary technology and beautiful design. Long ago, every Ted Talk I watched had me thinking "Wow! The world is a beautiful place." Now, every video makes me think, "Wow, society is falling apart." If I wanted to hear that then I might as watch the news…

  • Peter Stanczak says:

    Wow, UNBELIEVABLE nonsense! This guy still doesn’t know why media is going down. They all deserve to lose their JOBS. Answer to your question: You lost your job because you don’t report real news anymore!

    Start reporting instead of writing propaganda and people will read it. Yes, it is that simple!

  • This is the situation of every developed and developing countries.. I am from India and you made me feel what is happening here..
    I feel so sorry that news is dying before cheap entertainment

  • Local news has been dead for years, that's why we see a shrinking in our democracy. Local news gets all of their talking points from Media Matters and other centralized authoritarian leftist outfits. That's why you can watch hundreds of videos on YouTube of local news channels from around the country, parakeeting the "exact same words" when they are presenting their news stories.

  • Martyr4JesusTheChrist says:

    Demo(n)-ocracy is two wolves and a sheep fighting over what is for dinner. The MSM is DYING and their DAYS ARE NUMBERED because especially in the last few decades, which the internet was quite a catalyst for waking people up to how the MSM have chosen less and less to give raw truth, to not give anywhere as before true seeking-the-truth journalism, they twist the truth into utter lies, they mislead, have becoming pure propaganda factories (SEE OPERATION MOCKINGBIRD) and now people more than ever are learning who controls the mainstream media and for the various reasons they are lying so much to the people…. sure we are entering a time of where since there is more knowledge there is greater propensity for faux-news, and especially with 'deep-fake' technology etc.. but we have more cameras than ever before (especially smart phones) and thus the whole dynamic is changing and thus… what will rule a part of the future is individual quality journalism. I will stop right there for now.

  • In 2020 we have learned that social news can be halted for one major health crisis. Nothing else is discussed…
    have you heard Russia are changing the constitution to reintegrate a concept of 'GOD' in the text?
    Atheism and secularism are needed for 100 years ago, we need secularism to save us from evolution based viruses.
    No cures, only plagues are born in mythological/religious beliefs.

  • ProbablyARockEatingGoron says:

    Capitalist Monopoly on news has killed the local news. Or do you think that the Sinclair buyouts don't matter?

  • Carl Steinfurth says:

    Only problem with this title is
    There isnt one journalist worthy of listening to….
    You lost me…Denver post…liberal media.

  • We are an army of digital warriors now. The media has been dead for 40 + years. If the media told the truth it would be thriving because the avg. American wants the truth… irregardless if your an elephant or an a$$. Same thing with MSM TV and universities by and large … propaganda mills.

  • Excellent presentation. Spot on from someone who knows because he has been there — not just some egghead academic that never held a real "local" job. Way to go, Chuck Plunkett.

  • He's waay too worked up. Get a grip. He's too fine in his clothes to go out and demonstrate. Don't need these political agendas on TED. If you can't argue your case without getting red in the head of anger, then your words are meaningless.

  • The traditional method of news is dead and has been for some time. This is why they are all fomenting fear to the nth degree regarding covid19… starved for clicks, reads and eyeballs they have found s boogeyman that makes them very 'necessary' to the masses and, acting in their own self interest, they have taken full advantage of that.
    There is no honor in saving a dying industry and no honor in democracy.

  • If people cared about local news, revuenues would come from local news. But everybody is interested in the big stories from the big world.
    And right now everybody from all around the world is listening to a TED Talk in America, by you, Sir !! Not local at all.

    We all reach out: every TED-watcher exactly now is not consuming local news at all. Not good ?

    So don‘t blame the bad business guys ?, blame yourself for talking to the whole world on YouTube and doing exactly what you are condemning.

    Everybody here is searching the web for World-News AND NOT spending on local stuff, not caring at all, but clapping and blaming „the big corporations“. We good them bad!

    Nobody will stop you from producing local news… exception made for the locals. They don’t care anymore.

    But people ? ? when they here public funds, rebellion and REVOLUTION ? , that’s quite scary.

  • This is a serious problem but the only politician I’ve heard talking about this is Yang https://youtu.be/ExnFkT1E6Y8

  • The level of self importance is astonishing… Local news has been dead for years, and democracy a lot longer than that!

  • Herman Spaerman says:

    Wow! He starts off by expecting applause for being a journalist. No wonder mainstream media is on the decline.

  • People it's not capitalism that's the problem. Its corrupt governments and large corporations that have taken away the rights of the masses. Only they are allowed to trade and make profits, the masses have to be their slaves. By one deception or another they take away the little man's right to trade, they implement rules, regulations, taxes etc to make it impossible for people to have their own business and profit. With their schemes and plots they monopolise the market

    With foot and mouth disease hoax they bankrupted most of the small farmers.
    Now with coronavirus a very large number of small businesses will go bankrupt.
    This is not honest capitalism. There is no more democracy.

  • Svein Are Karlsen says:

    All news outlets are now dying because customers shy away from the fake news pushed by the clickbaiting smear merchants…

    Take a step back and look at the way the DNC and it's MSM attempt to kill democracy and overrule the presidential election.

    Smearing Trump every time possible is not news. It's an ongoing collaborative effort to suspend democracy instead of facing reality…

  • WANT TO KEEP YOUR MEDIA MONOPOLY GOING????? START BEING INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS AGAIN. So tired of the click bait tabloid nonsense. Time to die off old media.

  • main steam is biased af. Any system which relies on clicks and views to have a revenue will either provide what the audience wants or click bait.

  • 1 we have NEVER been a democracy and 2 when the news decided agenda pushing was more important than informing citizens, they signed their own death warrant. You fools did this to yourselves and now you want to whine and thrash about as you die from self-inflicted wounds.

    You can salvage something, but you have to cut the BS. But since we all know you won't, we'll just continue to watch you go down in flames.

  • Chris Mineburg says:

    If by democracy you mean democrats and by local news you mean fake news, good riddance. Can't die fast enough, Americans are done with you.

  • João Victor Lima de Souza says:

    a lot of people here are say that the News are corrupted. I only hope you don`t get to the same level as Brazil. Here people who support the president are nuts, everyone, incluided the News are communist. Everyone is a lier, except him. He got elected because people started no to beliave in real jornalism, but on youtuber on the internet.

  • Sandy Santigo says:

    Journalist are overrated. Become a writer instead. Most journalist are lazy they don’t go find out what’s actually happening. They start with an opinion, usually globalist socialist types. So all the prizes & awards are meaningless, too many fake news articles made journalist expendable. Social media has made newspapers disposable. Notice he mentions Trump & Schultz but not Bloomberg! Bias! We see through you guys, so called “journalist.” You want a propaganda paper funded by tax payers as you spew your bias, NO!

  • When fake news dies and you fools are held accountable table… that's when freedom and democracy will return.

  • Can see it happening in India??. The mainstream news channels r totally biased n support the ruling party be it with fake news or even with steps that results in tanking of the economy ??.
    There is still hope tho. We have new startups in the media. Those people r not biased towards the opposition or towards the ruling party. I hope we recover n the present news anchors r gone.??

  • Kacper Tomasik says:

    News? You mean that manipulative onesided clibkbaity stuff you should trust? No thanks, I'd have to keep up with way too many news' channels in order to get an objective point of view.
    Objectivity in journalism is dead.

  • Everyone watching this should be massively insulted. He just said you are incapable of researching political matters and candidates and coming to your own decisions, rather you need to rely on their interpretation, or more likely, their misrepresentation.

  • The richest remain standing that is why Bloomberg is the democratic candidate, oh right, he isn't. If the journalist were non-partisan and covered the news instead of trying to make it, I might still be on their side. When they stopped being on my side and decided they should be telling me what and how to think, I stopped supporting them.

  • People know the difference between local news and the mainstream propaganda machine that’s controlled by the Democratic Party. The People love our President Trump and we demand true news

  • Our local news to be politically correct will not disclose the race of a violent suspect who just committed a crime.

  • Philip Johnson says:

    As a republican, I disagree that Donald Trump is a bad president, but I do agree that local news is important. Ignorance will be the downfall of this country.

  • Dalton Erickson says:

    What people don't get about journalism in this comment section is the necessity of speaking truth to power. An ability your youtube and facebook comments don't have. None are influenced by the anonymous web comments. Those in power are influenced by public call outs. That is the power of journalism and the news.l

  • I'm more concerned with the Republic dying and now that we have a Democracy that destroyed that Republic, the next step is tyranny and we've got that too. So I'd say the Democracy already is dying, so the real question is, when will everybody have enough of the Democracy to tyranny thing? On the talk of Journalist, I don't see any in the Main Stream, there just Corporate employees and they have been for a long, long time now, they all work for nothing more than the PR arm of the Federal Government.

  • Michael Beach says:

    Fundamental misunderstanding about the role of profit in news media. An interesting prospective, but there are no solutions here.

  • GreensOplenty says:

    whats the difference between making all information taboo except from your political propagandist, and burning books in germany in the 30's?
    good luck educating trump worshiping terrorists, fascists. fascists dont read, they read between the lines how they are trained, so they can disseminate racial propaganda disguised as anything but. get around hate speech laws and try not to look so much like neo-nazis to the "normy's"

  • Swirl AndTwirl says:

    One of the local news in my country bias on politicians that are their friends(elite) they manipulate the audience but I'm thankful my countrymen aren't blind at all, they now get how bias the network is. Unlike before news were rebel in a right way and cooperative in a good way, but from my country that local network were bias and only highlighted the politicians that are in good business with them and can ruin any person or politician that are against to their partnered politicians.

  • Tejinder Singh says:

    Condition is even worse in India . All news channels lick boots of ruling party , spreading communal hatred , spreading myths and misbeliefs

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