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The Dirt

Lack of News a ‘Crisis for Democracy’, Civic Information Hub Aims to Help

By: Hanna Nakano

There’s a problem with local news—it’s drying up.

But there might be a solution. One that Davis Media Access’s Executive Director Autumn Labbé-Renault has been working on for months. A Civic Information Hub.

“The core issue is that people’s information needs are not being met,” Labbé-Renault writes in her proposal. “Every week we have people contact DMA seeking information about an event, resource, or community issue, or looking for coverage of the same. This lack of readily accessible and accurate information is a civic information problem—a civic health problem, if you will—and it’s crippling the way communities can address public problems.”

The big problem

Local news outlets are closing up shop, and as they do the flow of critical civil information is effectively cut off.

The United States saw the shuttering of 2.5 newspapers a week in 2023, according to a recent study from Northwestern University.

The report clocked Yolo County as having three news outlets and considers neighboring Sutter County an information desert, having zero. The Yuba-Sutter community is covered in part by the Appeal-Democrat in Yuba County. There are 204 counties in the United States that have no local news outlet at all, according to the report, and 1,562 with only one—usually a weekly newspaper.

There are two factors at play behind these newsroom closures, Medille Local News Initiative Director Tim Franklin told Poynter: 1. Independently owned papers finally folding after years of struggling with a rough pandemic economy, and 2. Large paper chains selling off properties because of declining revenue and large debt burdens.

A Crisis for Democracy

Journalism, an act protected by the First Amendment, is an essential part of a responsible and transparent government. Journalists are often referred to as the fourth estate for exactly that reason.

When a community doesn’t have a platform for journalism or a free flow of civic information, researchers say it can be a crisis situation.

“Recent research has shown that in communities without a local news outlet, the lack of journalistic oversight and transparency leads to a lack of accountability in government and business, which causes residents to pay more in taxes, and for the goods and services they need. Voter participation—especially in local and state elections—also decreases,” writes Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Northwestern University. “Into this news void creeps misinformation and disinformation, which leads to political polarization around national—not local—issues, and a crippling inability of residents to understand the problems confronting them and to come together to chart a new path forward.”

So what is a Civic Information Hub?

The nonprofit Civic Information Hub plans to unite the resources of Davis Media Access and other local news and culture publications in the service of community—and residents’ information needs.

A one-stop-shop, if you will, for essential information residents need to be good citizens and community members. To know what’s going on in their neighborhoods.

“This vision originates at a moment when the decline of local news is being addressed nationally but the decline of historical funding in our own noncommercial community media sector is not,” Labbé-Renault wrote. “It’s a moment for reinvention.”

Davis Media Access’ Role

Davis Media Access has a tangible infrastructure already in place to make the Information Hub a reality—equipment, tech expertise, journalists, website and FCC licenses.

What’s Next?


“As of April 2024, I’ve secured a $5,000 commitment from Yolo County Supervisor Lucas Frerichs’ Community Resiliency Fund, and a pledge for another $5,000 from the City of Davis towards a $50,000 planning grant,” Labbé-Renault wrote. “We envision a community engagement process much like the one we successfully utilized in the ramp up to launching KDRT in 2004.”

Labbé-Renault tells The Dirt the next several months will focus on finding the rest of the assessment phase funding and beginning to plan the engagement phase itself. 

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