City Council approves 'media incubator' request, wants clear line between city funding and journalism

The request by Mayor Rex Richardson asked the city to work with other institutions to find a way to help the struggling news industry in Long Beach.

City Council approves 'media incubator' request, wants clear line between city funding and journalism
Mayor Rex Richardson speaks during a grand opening celebration of Wellspring, an affordable housing development in Cambodia Town, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Long Beach will look into how city institutions and the private sector could help fund local journalism amid the continued diminishment of the industry nationwide and an ongoing strike that has gutted the city’s largest newsroom.

The City Council voted Tuesday to support a request from Mayor Rex Richardson to have city management reach out to the Long Beach Economic Partnership, a nonprofit that focuses on business growth and retention, and other institutions like local universities to create a model that could potentially help fund local journalism and allow it to grow in the future.

He also asked that the council throw its support behind pending state legislation that would require newsrooms to be paid by internet sites that use their content.

Richardson recounted his time as a council member in North Long Beach where he said it was difficult to get the good stories coming out of the community in the news and said the city as a whole is facing a similar problem as it’s trying to attract new businesses.

“We have to do a better job of telling the story of our city and a big part of that is we need to make sure that we’re supporting local media,” Richardson said.

Richardson pointed to other government-led funding efforts that are already underway, including an effort by California to fund a fellowship program at the University of California Berkeley, which has dispatched reporters to cities across the state, including Long Beach, using tax dollars to fill reporting gaps.

How the proposed “media incubator” could work in Long Beach is unclear but members of the council made it clear they wanted a bright line between city funding and local news coverage despite supporting the request unanimously.

“I like a healthy distance between journalism and government,” said Councilmember Kristina Duggan.

Jennifer Fleming, the chair of the Department of Journalism and Public Relations at Cal State Long Beach, applauded the effort to help support high-quality journalism, something she said is the bedrock of democracy at all levels. Creating a mechanism to help fund it could prevent the city’s news coverage from drying up, she said.

“Simply put, Long Beach is at risk of becoming the next news desert, meaning a city home to almost half a million people, a thriving technology sector and one of the largest ports in the world may no longer be covered in the near future by a daily, local news provider unless action is taken now,” Fleming told the council.

According to an annual report from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, over half the counties in the United States are now considered “news deserts,” meaning they have one or no local news sources, many of which do not provide daily coverage.

In Long Beach, there are a handful of news sources ranging from The 562, which focuses on high school and college sports coverage, to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the city’s longest-running news outlet. However, like many others across the country, consolidation and cuts have left the PT with a tiny fraction of the staff it used to have covering the city.

The Long Beach Post, an online news site that has covered the city for 17 years, has seen its newsroom collapse after the layoffs of nine of its employees in late March led to an ongoing strike by its three remaining reporters that has lasted nearly five weeks.

While the details of the media incubator will be worked out over the coming months, city officials made it clear Tuesday that the city should limit its involvement.

City Manager Tom Modica said the city would neither be the organizer nor the funder of the incubator, which means it will have to find outside groups to do both if the incubator moves forward.

Editors note: Jason Ruiz is one of the Long Beach Post reporters who is currently on strike amid an ongoing investigation into unfair labor practices at the organization.