Aspen Ideas Festival: Journalism’s fight for survival, locally and nationally

S. Mitra Kalita, CEO and co-founder of URL Media, and Stewart Vanderwilt, president and CEO of Colorado Public Radio, joined Vivian Schiller, the executive director of Aspen Digital and former CEO of NPR, for a conversation about the future of local news at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.
The Aspen Institute

Local journalism is in crisis.

According to a 2020 report by the Poynter Institute, nearly a quarter of all American newspapers have shuttered since 2004. That's over 2,000 local news outlets gone and tens of thousands of journalists who lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, hedge funds have been buying up newspaper chains and turning them into shells of their former selves.

This decline has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and today, many mid-size cities don't have a dedicated independent news organization.

So how do we save local journalism? And why does it even matter in the first place?

“These are our communities at stake, and so it’s not just kind of an academic question for me. This is really about our families and our neighbors,” said S. Mitra Kalita, CEO and co-founder of URL Media, a network of Black- and Brown-owned media organizations.

Without local news, the misinformation and propaganda threatening our democracy can proliferate more easily.

“There are incredibly nefarious forces that are pervading … my family’s phones … pretty much at every moment,” Kalita said.

Kalita and Stewart Vanderwilt, president and CEO of Colorado Public Radio, joined Vivian Schiller, the executive director of Aspen Digital and former CEO of NPR, for a conversation about the future of local news at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.

Kalita and Vanderwilt emphasized that this future must be about serving communities if local news is to survive.

Vanderwilt outlined a model of “radical cooperation” in which local news outlets hyper-focus their resources on covering the key issues in their community, then build out the rest of their content with cooperative partners.

Kalita’s URL Media fits into a similar model: “My hope that I’ve kind of staked my future on is a network model where we all get to be ourselves but band together.”

You can hear the full conversation on this topic from the Aspen Ideas Festival with the YouTube video above. Don’t see the video? Click here.

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