By Michael Shapiro
A few weeks ago, Verizon announced that it would shutter FIOS 1, its local news station in New Jersey and New York. The creation of FIOS 1 was aimed at capturing new subscribers by providing an alternative to Cablevision’s News 12. Over its ten years in existence, FIOS 1 provided vital local news coverage in communities across New Jersey and New York that would otherwise be neglected. Verizon has since announced that it will add News 12 into its packages. However, adding News 12 will not fill the void caused by FIOS 1 leaving the marketplace. Consumers will now have less choice when it comes to local news and 150 reporters, at least for the time being, will no longer be telling the important local news stories that need to be told.
More broadly, the move could not have come at a more unwelcome time. Many print and digital outlets continue to consolidate, downsize or shut down in communities across the country because of financial pressures, contributing to the expansion of “news deserts.” If this trend continues, and it shows little signs of slowing, the prognosis for the health of our civic life will continue to dim. If the reaction to the impending closure of FIOS 1 tells us anything, it’s that policymakers are beginning to take notice.
Several Members of Congress from New York and New Jersey sent a letter to Verizon asking them to reconsider their stance. They wrote:
“Ending this contract would shut down FIOS 1, a major contributor to original programming, and threaten the robust free press that drives our democracy in New York and New Jersey…As we have seen from the cuts and consolidation in print media, local journalism is irreplaceable, and these cuts would do great harm.”
In this sentiment, they are entirely correct. Local journalism is irreplaceable and so are the people who are on the ground doing the reporting. So what does Verizon’s decision to close FIOS 1 mean in the broader context of our local news ecosystem?
Attention from policymakers is a great start. By recognizing that we are truly facing a local journalism crisis, we are taking the first steps towards finding a solution that includes discovering ways to innovate in the public sector to preserve and expand local news coverage. We in local news should embrace this and actively work to find areas where government can support a robust local news ecosystem.
The second part is a lack of innovation. We need to continue to find ways to bring engaging, grassroots reporting to communities across the United States in a sustainable way.
The third broad takeaway is that we need continued, genuine buy-in from tech platforms in supporting local news. The decline of print and, yes, even digital outlets, has at least in part been a symptom of a shift of attention to big tech platforms. A concerted effort on the part of big tech to develop fruitful partnerships that will be mutually beneficial and not lopsided will be key.
As I’ve written before, local news isn’t nice to have — it’s essential. It’s essential because of the impact it has on the functioning of our democracy, from the federal level on down to our school boards. The data is clear. More people get engaged with the political process when there is robust local news coverage — including higher voter turnout. It is unequivocally bad news that Verizon is shuttering FIOS 1, but I do hope that it will serve as a wake up call that we need to do more to protect, preserve and expand local news coverage.
Michael Shapiro is CEO and publisher of TAPinto.net, a network of more than 80 independently owned and operated local news websites in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Florida. This post originally appeared on Medium at https://link.medium.com/YkkzfCdX4Z and is re-posted here with the permission of the author.