We Asked Candidates About Saving Local News

16 mins read
A hand holding a piece of paper

Ever notice that news organizations typically focus political coverage on a small array of topics, and frequently ask interviewees the same type of questions?

Yeah, we did too. So we decided to see how candidates handled queries about the mission of our nonprofit parent organization, the Pasadena Media Foundation. That mission is, in a nutshell, to save local news.

Nearly all the candidates we asked offered encouraging statements, naturally, about saving local news. After all, they are politicians or politician wannabes. A few proposed actual solutions including tax credits for news organizations, direct municipal funding and providing local journalism internships for college students.

But what’s obvious is that many local issues of interest to the Pasadena community are now being discussed solely within the context of social media threads and are rarely being covered by reporters. Some office seekers are clearly nostalgic for the days when journalists held local politicians and public agencies accountable.

Here is a selection of comments about the relationship of local news to governance and democracy from people running for office in or including Pasadena.


Candidates for House of Representatives, District 30

Michael Feuer: Local news is more important than ever.  With democracy on the line, major news outlets slashing staff, and coverage decreasing, it is essential to have vital local news outlets engaging the public, holding public officials accountable, and providing accurate, crucial local information to the public.  But the challenging economics of local news, with decreasing ad revenue and increasing competition from multiple, often less than credible online sources, compels public policymakers to act.  This should be a bipartisan cause.  I support refundable tax credits for local news and would explore zero-interest loans for community news start-up organizations.  We should examine making it easier for for-profit news organizations to become nonprofits, which would enable subscription fees to be tax deductible.  We might make local news reporters eligible for federal student loan forgiveness. I am open to other creative ideas to ensure that local news remains a vibrant part of our civic culture–before it is too late.”

Ben Savage: We get calls from national news, but national news can alienate viewers and readers. The issues are usually somewhat abstract. They don’t necessarily resonate with local voters and residents dealing with real issues in their lives. I think local news and local reporters can speak to the concerns and issues that people are going through every day. It’s also a whole new era for news. I believe that traditional legacy media has gone by the wayside, but there’s a pendulum shift, and as one form of news becomes dominant, people yearn for the other. So, it could be the case that people yearn more for local news if they feel alienated by national news. We’re keeping track of everything, but I’d certainly favor local tax credits to keep local news alive. I think that’s important. And as you said, national news just covers the national news, but this is an important election, and many important issues are happening right here in Southern California. We need local news coverage. National and international stories are obviously important, but it’s just as important to cover what’s going on in the LA area.

Laura Friedman: Local news is absolutely the heartbeat of our communities and our democracy. Without it, we don’t have a way of keeping government accountable and transparent; Citizens lose the ability to ensure that their elected officials are really working for them. It’s local news that provides that information. I tried to raise a bill for several years where municipalities could contribute through a Joint Powers Authority to fund local news but with a complete firewall between any content and the funding entities. I think we should revisit that because there’s got to be a source of funding for local news beyond ad revenue. It’s just too important to our democracy. I really appreciate you putting a spotlight on this race and the candidates. Without the local press, there’s just no focus on this race. What you’re doing is a real service, and I very much appreciate you highlighting all the candidates. I am anxious to have the local press cover any race. I’ve been walking door to door. A lot of people out there don’t know there is a race. I really miss the days of having all those reporters bugging me all the time. Because I could let my constituents know what I was doing or what my colleagues were doing. I like that, you know, I want that coverage. I want that participation. Right now, it’s hard for me even to find out sometimes what’s happening. We need that again.

Alex Balekian: One of the biggest things we need to do is roll back this whole notion of disinformation and fake news. Having fact checkers increases the pressure on the minimal resources that a news outlet is supposed to have, which definitely will stifle smaller operations like yours. Because my campaign has a presence on Google, I just got a notice from Google Ads that starting in February, and they will be arbiters of truth as to whether things are potentially inflammatory. These large tech platforms are going to actively censor things that they deem not to be true because they are the arbiters of truth. There are so many other repressive moves going on right now that I think they are going to kill the small guys. And high insurance rates for local news are intentional. I tend to be more of a libertarian. There used to be a law that news outlets had to report both sides fairly in a fair and balanced fashion. Then, when that got rolled back, partisan news corporations like CNN and FOX popped up. I don’t know how I feel about bringing that back, but I long for the days of Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings. Rachel Maddow says MSNBC is not going to televise Trump’s victory speech from Iowa because he’s going to speak falsehoods. But that’s Big Brother right there. The Democratic Party says we want democratic elections. We want to save democracy, but there’s a candidate they are trying to get off the ballot. I’m not a big Trump fan, but the man deserves due process. This is a farce from what’s going on. The problem is that the freedom to think and to say what you want just somehow turned in on itself.

Anthony Portantino:  We have to do a better job of respecting local newspapers, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this interview with you. I think more of us need to respect our local papers as well as the big press. I think the Pasadena Journal doesn’t publish in print anymore. That’s a loss for the community. We need to encourage people to advertise in their local paper, read their local paper, and write for the local paper. We need to try to keep you all afloat. It’s a bit of a sad state of affairs. These are exceptional times. We need to focus on getting things done and helping us save democracy, but also to increase effectiveness. Congress isn’t getting a lot done. There are tremendous needs, and we need people with the experience and the wherewithal to be effective. That’s what I’m going to do.

Candidate for House of Representatives, District 28

Judy Chu: Oh my goodness, I am so concerned about the trend of local news outlets disappearing, whether that be a local paper or a local radio program. Not every single story is national. Sometimes, the people best equipped to cover a story or a community are the ones who live there. It’s so important that people have sources of information that are accurate and that they can trust about their local communities. So yes, there needs to be some means to save these local news outlets. That’s why I was proud that the House version of Build Back Better specifically included funding to assist local news outlets. It included $1.67 billion in tax credits for newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, Web sites and other outlets that primarily cover local news. That’s why the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax matters, specifically did include this in Build Back Better. We know how important local news is to our communities and what a difference it makes in people’s lives. The Build Back Better Bill went through different iterations and ultimately became the Inflation Reduction Act. Unfortunately, it did not make it into the final version of the law. We were that close to getting it done. When we get the House back, I’d love to see movement on something like this in the future.

Candidates for Pasadena City College Board of Trustees

Area 4 – Tammy Silver: Local news is so important. We need it to keep everybody honest and the politicians honest. I wish people would subscribe to newspapers like they would give to a charity because it’s so important.

Area 6 – Ryan Liu: I think the unfortunate loss of local news outlets in recent years has been devastating to our community and democracy because I think civic participation requires that citizens are aware of what’s happening in their local communities. But that’s a lot harder when there are fewer and fewer local news outlets reporting on local events and issues. Colleges, especially PCC, with its history of KPCC, have a role to play in supporting local news, and that includes helping to build the pipeline of future journalists. PCC has a student newspaper, the Courier. When I was a student, I had classmates who worked for the Courier, and some of them became journalists. PCC also has a separate academic journalism program, which offers an associate degree and certificate in journalism. What’s really exciting about this program is the opportunity to earn academic credit by taking on an internship in journalism. PCC, such as through the Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion, should build strong relationships with local news outlets and place interested PCC students into internships at these outlets so they gain experience working in local journalism and potentially launch a career in it. But I don’t think we should limit this exposure to only students who have a current interest in journalism. There might be students who don’t even know that journalism could be a career. I think it’d be great to host career panels with local journalists to expose students to these opportunities so PCC helps build a pipeline of future journalists who’ll continue to do this important work. And I want to note and acknowledge the important role of ethnic media, as well, which provides news in different languages like Spanish and Mandarin. A lot of our community members, especially immigrants, rely on these ethnic local news outlets.

Candidates for California State Senate, District 25

Elizabeth Wong Ahlers. Photo: Campaign

Elizabeth Wong Ahlers: I really support everything local because that’s where the real power is for long-term change. It’s also a legacy and tradition for the community. So, the attrition of the local news sources is disturbing. We need to support local news, especially when there are local activities and school activities to get reported on, and people are excited to read about what their own group is doing. I remember getting a scholarship in Glendale when I was in high school. The local paper wrote a story about it, and my mom put it in the scrapbook. And you know, I can still show it to my kids. This is documenting community life. Even at the local level, it’s important to hold our elected officials accountable. The news agencies are the best vehicles for free speech, for questioning and for people to know and understand and be informed about what’s happening locally and nationally.

Sandra Armenta: I am 100 percent supportive of local news. People enjoy locally sourced information and understand that locally sourced information is vital. But we also need to make sure that local news is reliable. On Web sites, you don’t know if the source is reliable, trying to change the narrative. I have 16 Republican elected officials endorsing my campaign because they know me and have dealt with me since 2009. They know if they come to me, I will provide my assistance. We need to capture all that and put it in a message to all people who, regardless of party affiliation, need local news. We need boots on the ground to interview people. I vow to you that anytime any local news wants to reach out to me and ask for comments, I’m going to be there. I’m going to be accessible.

Sasha Renée Pérez: I think local news is absolutely critical. I shared the real impact that the local Monterey Park restaurant community was seeing as a result of what happened after the mass shooting. If it wasn’t for the LA Times telling some personal stories from restaurant owners, I don’t know if they would have ever been told. In terms of legislation, what I’ve seen, and what’s particularly concerning to me, is that many residents have turned to social media for their news and are not necessarily looking at legitimate sources. It’s much harder for folks to be able to tell the difference between a news agency with journalists doing research versus a blog. Especially with the rise of social media, everything looks pretty much the same. I know that legislators are having conversations about how to make it much easier to tell the difference between news sources that are fact-based and those that are not.

Candidates for Pasadena City Council

District 2 – Rick Cole: There was a time in which there were newspapers that covered every government in America and could afford to put a reporter in virtually every public meeting from little towns to big cities, from a transit agency to a vacation district. That has just evaporated. So, there has to be a new economic model. That’s not a problem the government has to solve. Still, I think the demand for local news is something that elected officials can actually play a policy role in by reconnecting people with their government and helping people see the enormous value of paying attention to what’s going on in their lives.

District 2 – Felicia Williams: We are challenged with local news. Each outlet has a slant. A lot of it is driven by advertising. There’s a shortage of writers who want to focus on local news. I don’t really know what the answer is. You’re on the front line, working on this and providing funds, but the answer to getting fair and balanced news isn’t driven by advertising revenues or someone’s personal agenda. It’s very challenging, to be honest with you. There should be information that people can then draw their own conclusions about.

District 3 – Brandon Lamar: Local news is important. It’s not just information pieces or opinion pieces, but truth-finding articles about what is happening and what is taking place in our local bodies. What I find is that so many families are just busy taking care of their lives, working, and providing for their families and children; they can’t really stay on top of what’s happening. So local news provides people with an opportunity to know what is going on around them and where they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity because they are busy. Regarding Pasadena Now, Pasadena Star-News, or Pasadena Black Pages, I think they all have their own niche. Everybody has their own identity. No one news entity or local agency does everything. That’s important, too, that everybody has their own identity when it comes to local news.

District 4 – John Doyle: Local news is super important, but it’s a double-edged sword. I love that local news tells people what’s going on, how they can get together, activities for kids, local sports athletes, art, and local culture. I get frustrated with local news when they take a press release from the police – an armed labor union is what I call them – and just run with it without doing any research. Sometimes, local news is used as an outlet for messages that either the city or the police department wants to get out. That’s when I have a cringe-worthy moment. When I see something that doesn’t make sense, it seems like it’s more fear-driven or click-driven versus we’re in this community together. I am a fan of local news. I prefer it because I want to know what’s going on in my community, but the local economy needs to support local news. The health of the middle class is the health of local news. The middle class, the people who eat at restaurants and go to theaters; that’s what is important, that transactional exchange.

District 4 – Jonathan Horton: I think local news is incredibly important. Local government is where all the action is. The day-to-day things local news provides are absolutely necessary. It’s vital to stay connected to the policies and the happenings that affect your life most directly. Any way we can support our local media outlets, we should follow those.

Candidates for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, District 5

Kathryn Barger: Now, more than ever, we have to support local news. As you know, it is very competitive as it relates to the financial implications of running local news, whether it be a newspaper or online. So, I would support looking at how we can maintain and ensure that they exist because, again, the LA Times is not going to cover some of the things that local news covers. After all, quite frankly, for them, that’s not going to build their readership, especially in Pasadena. Pasadena residents like to know if a tree was planted on Lake Avenue and was dedicated; they want to know where it was planted. I’m exaggerating, but not by much, and I think you would agree with that.

Chris Holden: We should be doing everything we can to ensure that the press stays vital and continues to be at a place where journalism is part of how we get our information and how we keep informed; everybody is okay with getting their news from their cell phone or technology. But many people still like to get the newspaper, open it up and read through it. What I’ve done before, whether it was trying to help minority press outlets who were trying to keep resources going, fighting against legislation or anything that was taking away those resources that would have essentially killed them off, was to help these mom-and-pop operations and make sure that nothing was done to undermine their ability to keep reporting the news to the respective communities, Whether daily or weekly, we will do what we can to preserve a free and open-accessible press.

Marlon Marroquin: The landscape of modern journalism is particularly influenced by the dominance of major news outlets with access to big data and complex algorithms. This is a growing concern of mine. While influential in disseminating information, these tools can sometimes lead to the propagation of sensationalized content. They often prioritize stories that elicit strong emotional responses, like fear and anger, and overbalanced, informative reporting. This tactic, driven by underlying motives to increase viewership and engagement, can distort public perception and overshadow the more nuanced everyday realities, especially those covered by more local news outlets. Smaller local news outlets must champion trustworthy journalism and integrity and prioritize content that serves the public interest. It’s about asking the hard questions and expecting honest, direct answers from our officials, not allowing them to deflect or spin the narrative. A lot of the more prominent news outlets tend to do this. We need to foster a culture of accountability where officials are held responsible for their actions and statements. This shift also requires educating the public about how larger outlets curate and present news. Awareness of these practices is crucial as it empowers individuals to evaluate the news they consume critically. Ultimately, the goal is to move away from fear-based narratives. I think local news is at the front of that. Eventually, especially with tools like AI, people will discover that many of these fear-mongering and clickbait stories were never in their best interest.

Konstantine Anthony: I love the local press. You guys have an opportunity to talk about issues that corporate giants don’t. There’s a group here called My Burbank News, a totally independent local media. I go out of my way to have conversations with them, to show up when they’re having interviews. If you want to hear from your elected officials, you’re not going to get it from the LA Times. You’re going to see it in the local paper. I am more comfortable talking with the local press than I am with CNN or the big boys. The major problem I see is that people click on sensationalist news. Unfortunately, we have been trained by Twitter and Facebook only to respond to the wildest stuff you see on the internet. Having a resource that people know about and trust can combat that. We don’t have to agree, right? I don’t need you to endorse my policy proposals or love everything I’m doing, but I simply want to be present and on your site with exclusive content only available on the local press level. I think that’s how we take back that local initiative and understanding of politics. Regarding clickbait, I was a target of that. I mean, back when the whole drag queen thing came out. Some of those headlines were ridiculous. But it got people talking about it, and it got them to click the thing. And then, of course, I’d have to field the responses and say, “Actually, no. That’s not true.” This is what really happened. You need an engaged electorate, and local news is part of that. You’re the only one asking those questions. I haven’t seen anybody else ask that stuff.

Candidates for California State Assembly, District 41

Jed Leano: The city of Claremont has been blessed with having a local newspaper for generations called the Claremont Courier. It has a robust level of public engagement. I’ve been on the council here for five years. Every time I pick up my kids from school, every time I go to the grocery store, people approach me saying, “Hey Jed, I heard you voted for this or that. Let’s talk about it.” That’s only possible because of the Claremont Courier. People are informed and give me their opinions. We need to hear from folks, and the government can’t do it alone. We want to believe that we have the solution to reach everybody, but we can’t by ourselves. We need partners, and local news has been the crucial partner in making that happen. It’s a reliable, honest, sincere, and credible news source that, without it, public engagement would be totally different. My town is the direct beneficiary of having a generations-old local news source that knows our town and knows the issues. We have to fight like hell to make sure that we save local news.

Phlunté Riddle: I was a Public Information Officer for many years. I don’t like sound bites. I don’t like misinformation. I don’t like it when I hear incomplete stories. I came up with the Pasadena Star-News. It provided what was going on in the community where I grew up. The Claremont Courier does that now for Claremont. They talk about local news. Now, you can barely find anything in the printed media. There is now online news only. And it’s concerning that print media is going out of business. Now, the LA Times looks like one of these little papers that you could get out of the news rack there on Colorado Boulevard. It’s disheartening because we’re not getting complete stories anymore. We’re getting what I call sound bites, and someone’s opinion is not investigative reporting. I’d like to see more investigation. I come from a profession where you scan, assess, and evaluate, and you may have to re-scan and reassess before you act. Only then do you have some knowledge and some ability to move forward. This rush to be the first is to make mistakes. Then, to find the corrections, you have to go back and read page five.

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