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Local News Is Dying, Taking Small Town America With It (bloomberg.com)
130 points by chmaynard 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments

In my area, local journalism had a sharp decline as soon as the publisher began requiring Facebook authentication for comments on the online stories. Previously there had been at least a dozen comments on any major story and now there are always zero. Apparently throwaway accounts can be most critical when the audience is your closest neighbors, especially when a poster is associated with a local business.

(Admittedly, there had been some abuse of the online comments and the publisher did save money in the short term by dropping any moderator effort from the payroll costs.)

It's kind of unfortunate that there's no easy way to scope the internet down to a smaller group of participants, for small time operations like local news sites.

Local news doesn't want to include audience participation from as far away as another time zone, or another state, but even then, geographic exclusions aren't an entirely correct exclusion criteria, since former residents of a local region may wish to participate from afar, because they still tune into home town news, after moving to new territory.

Real world names freeze out lots of participation, because taking ownership of an "incorrect" (contentious) opinion can have permanent consequences to one's reputation.

The real name and/or social credibility fix, is a blunt force trauma solution, to keep out obnoxious people, and isolate discourse to limited subgroups. But another problem is, even without being obnoxious, non-professional participants frequently go off-topic and off-script.

Pseudonyms almost certainly require painstaking, labor intensive moderation, and a skillful attention devoted to selectively ascribing relevance to conversation.

Most local operations just want to know there's an audience with a pulse, but providing that audience with a platform and a voice is another matter entirely.

One option is to do what illicit sites have done forever: require an invite, such that the bad deeds of the invitee reflect on the inviter. Doesn't require real names on the site, but the inviter knows who they are inviting.

Lobste.rs, for instance

I want an invitation to lobste.rs now!

message me your email addy.

Facebook Auth is an easy step for web moderators to take, and is helpful from a marketing/analytics perspective as well.

I wonder if requiring a third-party “real person” auth like Facebook wouldn’t be so detrimental (in the contrxt of this discussion) if your user account could be publicly anonymous. For example, the site owners know who you are, but the comments section just sees whatever name/avatar you’ve chosen for that particular site.

A gated community, but you don’t have to wear a name tag once you’re in? I suspect those are already in use, if anyone has examples feel free to share.

For that to work, Facebook Auth would have to raise barriers against open, public identification, while acknowledging that the authenticated account is going to be disclosed to the site owner, which is a confusing layer of deflection.

I don't think the rational basis for the nuance of that negotiation would reach end users or site owners. Both would likely complain that it offers no assurance of safety, and remains a disappointing compromise.

The choice to adopt nuanced tactics in furtherance of rewarding communication requires nuanced personalities at the reigns.

What about trained moderators?

Who pays them?

In my area, Facebook authenticated commenters conducted themselves poorly as ever and comments were permanently switched off.

Yup. When I look at the comments on the stories the local news back home posts to Facebook, I see hundreds if not thousands of vile racists come out of the woodwork - most of them with names I recognize.

Comments are toxic anyway. Disable them and post a link to a subreddit or other place that is willing to deal with them. Or just disable them.

> "we need more at the policy level,” said Napoli, who believes public funding could alleviate the local news crisis

Sounds like a conflict of interest, to get money from the government. Also, artificially propping up old ways of doing business is a rickety foundation. Newspapers as we know them occupy a narrow slice in world history. It's not like we have always had newspapers from the beginning of time up until now.

Let's investigate natural ways to accomplish the same goal of newspapers, but with our current technology. The internet has obliterated costs to publish. Compare a building full of typesetters, Linotypes, and printing presses, to WordPress and server rental. Now that doesn't address all of a newspaper's old expenses. There is still the staff: reporters spending days and weeks investigating a story, editors organizing and refining. But what does the Press, invented from scratch with our current technology, look like? I think you have to consider the different sections of an old newspaper one at a time:

1. Product reviews. Seems that there is still plenty of that, between the various specialized websites and bloggers and vloggers.

2. Lifestyle. Again, we are drowning in such coverage, like on Youtube.

3. Sports. I don't know, I don't keep up with sports. How is sports news faring?

4. Business news. Again I don't know and don't care. Someone else comment.

and finally, biggest of all:

5. The main example and, to many, the raison d'etre for news: keeping government and businesses honest, by sniffing out corruption.

Maybe the new way is without the middleman. Instead of government insider speaking anonymously to a reporter, the insider anonymously posts the leak himself.

Newspapers overlap with 100% of the era when democracy has been the norm in the West. Studies have shown that people who read newspapers, as opposed to watch news on television, remember more details about political events. So it is newspapers, specifically, which need to be saved.

Nor is there any conflict of interest between receiving money from the government and covering the government. If you believe the courts can be independent then you can believe that newspapers can be set up as independent entities. If you don’t believe that the courts can be independent then you are essentially saying that you don’t believe in the existence of liberal regimes, which takes us into a discussion regarding how much purity needs to be achieved by an ideal before one is willing to recognize its existence — an interesting topic but too broad to be discussed in comments on a website.

The court system is not a business, and it takes a lot of work and regulation to keep it relatively independent, and even then it's not foolproof. There are strict rules that apply to judges, lawyers, jurors, and everyone else involved in court proceedings to safeguard against conflicts of interest.

The country's legal foundations have been constructed from the ground up to support and allow for a relatively-independent judiciary. You can't have just hand-wave all that away and act like the same level of independence will apply to private entities that take government subsidies.

East Texas district figured out how to run the court as a racket to cash in.

> Newspapers overlap with 100% of the era when democracy has been the norm in the West. Studies have shown that people who read newspapers, as opposed to watch news on television, remember more details about political events. So it is newspapers, specifically, which need to be saved.

It sounds like it's "remembering more details about political events" that you really want to save. Are you sure newspapers are the only way to accomplish that?

The government should not be funding media that reports on government. No matter how independent the intent, there is an inherent conflict of interest.

I oppose using my tax dollars to fund reporting about my tax dollars. NPR, for example would never report fairly on debates to eliminate subsidies for NPR. Their reporting will never support going against their own best interests. Would the BBC be trusted to fairly report on any proposal to cut the budget for the BBC? Never. To think otherwise is to live in a dream world.

We should be careful of falling into the trap of "When all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail."

It is the fundamental job of the government to provide all of the essential services that a society needs -- healthcare, courts, police, housing, information gathering, transportation, mail, water, electricity, garbage collection, protection of the environment, flood control, social insurance, and so much more -- all human activity.

Some of the decisions regarding these activities should be handled by decentralized decision making. That is, sometimes the government governs best by outsourcing some of the decision making to other entities. But when we speak of the private sector, we are speaking of just one kind of decentralized decision making. It can be very convenient in some cases to make use of the private sector, but we should not make a fetish of it. There are many other forms of decentralized decision making, including all of those forms that have yet to be discovered, but which will be explored in the future. To say that this one particular form of decentralized decision making is the only form which should be allowed is the same kind of mistake that leads some computer programmers to insist that Ruby On Rails is the ultimate solution to all forms of computer programming, and therefore Ruby On Rails should be used to solve all problems of computing. That kind of fetish can only lead to bad results. Wisdom dictates that we examine the issue on a more general and broader level.

Many would disagree with your definition of the 'fundamental job of the government' Nozick's Anarch, State and Utopia provides a relatively good argument for why that would be.

I read and enjoyed most of Nozick's Anarch, State and Utopia, however I don’t have the energy to post my full response today. I will write up my thoughts at some point and post them to my blog.

To be fair, no small newspaper owned by a large corporation is going to report about their own closing fairly, but they have lots of other things they likely have to be careful about. Who would report badly on a parent company if they knew the company had a history of closing down papers that report badly on them or censoring those stories out.

On the other hand, if your political system by law cannot cut funding to particular papers serving x customer base without cutting funding to all of them, it is harder to do such things. A newspaper in a city of 40,000 in northern Indiana couldn't be cut for reporting stuff the government does without the same thing happening for all the newspapers of around the same size in that state - or across the country, if that was where the funding came directly from instead of block grants that are popular.

You can legislate some protections into the law, after all. And you can push for this stuff.

As far was the "I oppose using my tax dollars to fund..." Unfortunately, tax dollars aren't something one can line-item. Everyone pays for things with their tax dollars that they'd rather not pay for. It is part of paying taxes. I'd rather not pay for lifetime health insurance for a congressman that serves one term, for example. I'd rather not pay for unnecessary military gear nor wars for that matter. But I understand these are part of paying taxes. Even if one is politically active and they talk to their representitives often, these things will always be the case. Just because everyone doesn't agree with everything doesn't mean much.

> Their reporting will never support going against their own best interests.

Even if that's true, wouldn't their budget be the only thing that applies?

If you could guarantee that NPR/PBS/BBC/CBC/ABC was a completely independent entity, publicly funded but otherwise completely divorced from the government, then the only issue with which they would have a direct conflict of interest would be themselves / their budget.

That seems like a much better situation than what we currently have, where only large multinational corporations fund media, and therefore almost everything is a conflict of interest every single day.

The fact that they did, in fact, report fairly on the debate over ending NPR subsidies disproves your entire point.

> Would the BBC be trusted to fairly report on any proposal to cut the budget for the BBC? Never.

The BBC is indeed trusted to report on this, as well as scandals within the BBC that have happened from time to time.

The BBC tends to cover itself more harshly that competitors cover the bbc. On the other had they often drag entertainment into news, strictly, bake off (when it was on bbc), etc.

> Sounds like a conflict of interest, to get money from the government

There's a way to fix that. Until recently, it was common for certain announcements, requests for public comment, etc etc to go in the paper, which meant buying classified space. (Whether it's on physical paper or on your phone is sort of a moot point.)

This has no conflict of interest concerns. It doesn't solve the whole problem, but it gives you away to boost a public good without being a direct subsidy.

Assume I'm working at the regional government and I have a really nice example of corruption, with copies of documents to prove it.

I can put it up on my web site. Nobody will see that, unless I sneak it into the urandom article, and 99% of its readers wouldn't care, because most don't even know where in Germany that region is.

I can post on Twitter. My circa 100 followers probably won't retweet it. Now what?

> Maybe the new way is without the middleman. Instead of government insider speaking anonymously to a reporter, the insider anonymously posts the leak himself.

This doesn't replace journalists/reporters as witnesses to local government activities.

Regarding sports news, major collegiate and all professional sports are doing fine. Small collegiate and high school sports suffer without local media coverage. ESPN covers high school sports very, very selectively. The days of a mom clipping out the high school soccer coverage of her daughter or son are coming to and end.

Surely game scores are posted in a highschool bulletin, or a team could have a twitter/facebook/Instagram account to announce scores/highlights.

There are a couple sites competing in the space to be the crowdsourced local sports scoreboard. MaxPreps, CoachT, etc.

at least in Texas, a lot of the high school scores are all wrapped up in MaxPreps.com

Is that necessarily a bad thing though? It would seem to me (non-American) that high school sports news would at most of interest to the parents of those playing, so it doesn't seem feasible for it to obtain wide coverage.

Thinking back to my hometown's newspaper, I don't think it ever covered high school sports, only professional sports.

I plays sports through the UK equivalent of high school, and it never occurred to me that it would get any kind of media coverage.

Even village-level sports rarely got more than a passing mention (if that) in the local paper.

If that is currently happening in America, it doesn't seem like a huge loss.

Where I'm living the local newspaper covers sports (mostly soccer and handball) of childrens' teams extensively, and they know they had better mention almost every player by namein the article or at least the photo caption.

Young parents will subscribe to the paper for that reason alone.

Exactly. Think of it almost like advertising. Local newspapers mostly don't run routine local sports because they like to or think there's any great societal value in it but because it helps to pay the bills--in this case through subscriptions they otherwise wouldn't have.

At the end of the day, it's the coverage of government and related things that directly affect the lives of the citizens. Human interest etc. is nice but it's optional (and is relatively easy in any case).

Be careful with what you call rickety.

Web advertising only became viable with the birth of persistent tracking. Twitter’s struggle to monetize underscore that. Persistent tracking is only possible because government in the US has adopted a prevailing policy of remaining hands off for most business matters.

That can change with the stroke of a pen. If Google or Facebook found themselves unable to gather comprehensive dossiers on all humans, their business models would implode.

Every news organization has a conflict of interest, and that conflict of interest concerns whoever owns the organization.

As much as I love NPR, the last entity you want to own or fund a news organization is the government, because it's very easy to slip towards state propaganda.

There's one big problem about the "new way without the middleman", and it goes to the central function of a news organization, which is judgment, curation, and sniffing out BS. When we lose local news orgs, we lose that filter (for better and for worse).

The filter has several functions:

* tell us what a seasoned reporter thinks is true after years on a beat, by not including the BS;

* connect the dots between current news and other events (tell the bigger story to help me understand why something matters);

* save the readers time, because the readers don't have time to wade through all the verbose, partisan, poorly edited anonymous blogs. News organizations exist to highlight and synthesize and summarize. When they die, we lose that. Removing the middleman is really removing the people doing the labor of condensing many disparate points of view and the flat confusion of facts.

As local news organizations die, we will have less engaged communities on every level, and more corrupt local institutions, and that will lead to greater stagnation and inequity in the US. It's already a huge problem, and it will get worse.

>>As much as I love NPR, the last entity you want to own or fund a news organization is the government, because it's very easy to slip towards state propaganda.

The federal government does not own NPR. It is a 501c3 organization. It does not receive any direct federal funding, though it does receive competitive grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which amounts to a low single digit percentage of its $200M annual revenue.

I misspoke. Funding by government is just as dangerous as ownership. Both create a conflict of interest. NPR receives more than 10% of its funding from the feds. As an NPR listener since the 80s, I've observed a long, slow shift towards including whacky rightwing viewpoints as the organization has come under threat of defunding from GOP-dominated Congresses.

What made those specific viewpoints "whacky"?

This is not the place to get into it.

So if their funding is so tiny, then calls to eliminate that funding ought not be worrisome? Whenever that federal expenditure is brought up, there are rabid campaigns that government wants to kill Seasame Street. So clearly the funding is significant enough to warrant extreme protectionism of that funding. If NPR has a product people want, the free market should support it just fine.

If the funding amount is so insignificant, then it shouldn’t matter if it is cut right? Yet, propose cutting that spending and we quickly see that government funding is pretty significant in importance, if one listens to the impassioned arguments defending it.

It’s a “low single digit” of their revenue, but apparently that low single digit is so significant that you have near riots over killing Big Bird if it were cut.

I see it as more like, the defenders of public broadcasting are infuriated that public radio ($4M) is put on the chopping block and the DoD ($600B) is to be increased.

It's not that cuts to public radio is unthinkable, but when someone proposed they will fix the federal budget by cutting NPR (0.0001% of the budget) they are looking for a fight, not really trying to solve the problem.

Supporting news with government money is horrible idea. Paying the fox to guard your henhouse and all that.

Better move would be there force more government transparcy. So it doesn't require reporters digging around to find truth. Record sessions post all votes, actions, studies, proceeding etc. On line in easy to machine parse format. There are plenty of people who would analyse and report on that data for fun or out of sense of Civic duty. It happens now.

It's not perfect but a big step.

I like to think a fox who's smart enough to handle money is smart enough to know an hour or two of pay could buy plenty of chicken without being hunted down and turned into a scarf.

On a national level, I wonder if you can use international rivalries to balance state-funded news.

You know that BBC or a directly-government-funded PBS has one set of biases, but if you add the also-biased coverage of the same event from Xinhua or RT, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I don't see it working for local news though-- there's not going to be multiple governments with balancing biases covering funds misappropiration in the local school district.

> “At the local level, news doesn’t stop when the news coverage goes away,” Lanane said. “Somebody has to do this work.”

And there's the problem: No, somebody does NOT have to do this work. It is beneficial to society if someone does local journalism, agreed. But if there is no viable economic model for it, then it will disappear. Perhaps the most likely alternative right now, if there's going to be significant local new coverage, is government-subsidized journalism, but that clearly will not be doing any in-depth investigation of those in power in that government. And I don't think that most governments are thinking about doing that anyway. I think the most likely outcome is what is happening: local journalism will, for the most part, completely disappear.

I also recommend Clay Shirky's "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable" : http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking... - I think he clearly explains why this is happening, not because the newspapers didn't see it coming, but because the fundamental economic forces have proven irresistible.

People can live in pretty awful situations, by that definition very few things are necessary.

I disagree with the point made repeatedly in the comments here that government funded media can't work. NPR, PBS, the BBC, and CBC all routinely perform investigative reporting on the very governments that fund them. Additionally, it would take a pretty wild set of circumstances for a federal government official to squash reporting into a corrupt water board member in Utah. If that happens, maybe that stone will go unturned, but if we do nothing nearly every stone will go unturned.

I would love to live in a world where it was possible not to have the conflict of interest that public funding creates, but it is abundantly clear that the options before us right now are publicly funded local news and very much less local news. I think public funding is the right answer.

Maybe we'll get lucky and a plucky Stanford dropout will figure out a way to make local journalism profitable, but I'm not interested in waiting for that.

You are really dealing with a confluence of events that are affecting local news outlets of all forms:

1. Increased general interconnected nature of the world. People still care about local events of course, but there is a much greater concern for the big events of the whole world now. Your likelihood of being affected by the big news in some far away place has increased greatly and at an accelerating pace ever since the beginning of the 20th century.

2. That interconnected nature has become exponentially greater as the internet has rolled out. Before, your source to world events would still be your local newspaper/radio/television but primarily driven through aggregators (AP/UPI/major news TV/radio networks). Now people have the ability to get directly to the original more local sources. The odd secondary effect of this is that it has reduced the size of the local news sources in the first place.

3. Increased partisanship hasn't helped. People are much more likely to abandon a news source if they feel it is biased, true or not, ans they have other options now.

All of these together mean that news of all varieties has been heavily disrupted, but the long term replacement hasn't become readily apparent. I can't think of a similar system of disruption in other industries.

Was there ever a self-sustaining model for local news? Weren't most local news outlets mostly supported by their classified ads section?

Yes, craigslist.org accidentally killed local news. Craig Newmark is aware of this and is in engaged in philanthropic counter-efforts.

How do you know/Where can I find more information about this?

In case you've never encountered Clay Shirky's classic essay, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable", it is a prescient look from 2009.

> It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem...

> Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole.


Whenever I hear the latest issues with local news and various attempts to solve it, I am reminded of Grisham's book The Last Juror. For whatever reason, it dramatized the effect that local news can have on a small community that made me really appreciate its potential as a nice public service, if for nothing else than to keep the community talking about things together.

Nextdoor seems like the place where local papers can join up as news pages to reboot their traffic.

Is anyone else getting blocked with a Bloomberg ToS violation warning?

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I get that as well and I tunnel all my web traffic through a cheap VPS. I get captcha challenges often since my IP address comes from commercial instead of residential range.

Nope, and I have ublock running. Do you have javascript disabled?

I run Firefox and NoScript and don't allow Javascript from Bloomberg. I've never had a problem viewing their articles.

I'll guess it has more to do with the originating IP address (e.g. perhaps lots of requests from a single IP behind a firewall) or maybe something to do with cookies (I allow all but delete all at least once daily, so I never have old cookies lingering around). I'm in the USA so geolocation might enter into it as well.

It happens from time to time.

My wife is on nextdoor. I hear all the local news.

That works OK for gossip. But how does it solve the problem of keeping government honest? This was noted in the second paragraph of the article:

Without journalists digging through property records or attending city council meetings, looking for official wrongdoing and revealing secret deals, local politicians will operate unchecked—with predictable consequences.

A few months ago Mercury News [I've heard AKA "The Murky News"] purged some journalists, including the one that had the beat of my local city area of Campbell; if Campbell was a rectangle, North and East and West are against San Jose with South being against Los Gatos.

Now, at least it seams, the only coverage we get from Mercury News is the police blotter. That's it. Nothing more. If I want anything about Campbell I have to subscribe to Twitter, Campbell City specific website, Campbell City specific events website, Campbell City specific paper local newspaper [I'm not kidding], and I'll make an educated guess Facebook. I'd mention Reddit, but that's on questionable life support because of one or two users based on aforementioned sources sourced from myself included.

My point is... the point of the article, if at least the Hacker News title, is correct. And I'm not even including stuff like "Patch" or "NextDoor" or other hyper-local internet-based networks there are. Subscriptions mushroom like a nuclear blast horror in the face of alternatives.

I think I'd like a better definition of "small town". At least where I live there are a LOT of suburbs which are sort of their own towns, but they're not really self-sufficient; in reality they're all previously far flung places that became tax-dodges for getting around being in the local major city.

I would actually welcome these outlying areas being merged in to the core city and a policy of doing the transit transfer tracking at the ports/roadway edges that connect out to other regions. That should also discourage founding new small fiefdoms as tax-dodges.

I would also finally be able to vote on things in the big city that affect my life, and maybe get those crazy anti-soda anti-cars/proper transit outside of the big city politicians replaced with someone that's looking at the big picture instead of a close-up.

>I think I'd like a better definition of "small town". At least where I live there are a LOT of suburbs which are sort of their own towns, but they're not really self-sufficient

This is a problem plaguing almost all comparative writing about cities and why the OMB defines MSAs and CSAs for performing meaningful like-like comparisons. (It's also for this reason that most ranked city lists are useless garbage built on the false premise that political borders are a good way to delineate towns for anything beyond politics.)

"You have 8 free articles remaining. Subscribe for unlimited access. " - Seeing this all over the web certainly doesn't help. Several of our local news sites went the same route, which has no doubt cut into their page views. People aren't interested in paying $5.99/week for news websites.

Another reality is that in a lot of areas... well, there's just not much to report on to begin with. Slow news days are quite common. Our local news station will actually call the fire and EMS stations and ask if anything is going on. If there's nothing going on, you'll know because the Facebook feed ends up reposting momsdaily or simplemost blog articles.

Local news died a long time ago, and in awful ways: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM8L7bdwVaA.

This is interesting but it seems like it is just a baseline. I didn't see how the amount of local news now compares to the amount in the past?

IMO local radio has the most potential to augment local news services. It’s a more natural fit.

You should make the header start in helvetica and just imperceptibly slowly have the letters animate to drift apart

It's a symptom of the fact that people on the whole do not want to pay for news.

It's a failure of capitalism that the positive externalities of local news are not captured by the people who generate it (just like a failure of capitalism that the negative externalities of so many things aren't borne by those that generate it)

Personally I feel like I would happily pay small amounts for news, but nobody has figured out how to frictionlessly pay $0.00004 to read a news article I'm interested in.

We're stuck right now with only two models, $15-30/mo subscriptions subsidizing hordes of non-payers, or ads.

Agate (http://agate.one) seems a reasonable way, but unless it builds a following I don't see it lasting.

What we get in USA is not news though. Esp on TV. It is weather, sports, gossip, fluff pieces, war/disaster/crime (typically non-local), political sound bites. With 1/3 to 50% ads depending on medium.

All those news types have better and or free sources. With more depth and detail.

Problem with tradituinal news orgs are that they attempt to serve everybody so is generic, shallow. And thus very low value. Very low.

Yeah, this pretty much sums up another media dilemma nowadays. The internet has made jack of all trades services obsolete, and so people don't need to rely on a single source for all that stuff any more. So the everyday newspaper or TV news network that tries to cover everything simply can't compete with a legion of experts covering their own specialities.

In the past news organisations used to pay for those people to find out what's happening in Ruralton, TN, and let the people know.

People now aren't willing to pay for those experts, so the only ones that cover the news are those with other agenda

Maybe small town America has to go?

Not saying it should. But it may be a valid question.

Local papers in cities like NYC and Baltimore are also shuttering, so this is more about local journalism than it is about small towns.

It has to stay. Farms, mines, and factories (usually in small towns, anyway) aren't going to run themselves and cannot all be outsourced.

Automation and mechanisation is increasing in all of those three examples. Give it a generation and they may well run themselves.

Trade in the output of farms and mines literally predates writing, and whether or not the same can be said for factories depends entirely on what you count as a factory.

The very same thing which allows rural farms in America to sell to American cities also allows rural farms outside America to sell to American cities. Likewise factories and mines.

These seem like problems that could be solved with applications of proper mass transit.

Do you realize how spread apart farms are? They aren’t stackable.

My parent’s farm is in a town of 2000 people, their land is a 10 minute drive from town if direct. The nearest city is 2 hours driving. If you had to bus all the farmers to their different fields that would take all day. Oh, and these guys will have multiple properties scattered all over the map to attend to.

Really, the majority of America’s farm land is not near any city at all. Cities tend to push out and run farmers off. City planners see farm land as land that should be developed.

Then there are the small town people themselves. And the end of the day, none of those people want to live in a city. I live in a city, frankly, city life sucks.

If you switch to saying “we should do more urban farming”...which you should, please do. That works until you start talking about meat and dairy products. You probably don’t want animal operations inside a city (check out Chino, CA dairies), and even if you do, the feed for the animals will have to come from outside the city.

There's really no way to optimize public transit in such remote areas. A lot of farmers will have a few hundred acres in one section and another 800 a few miles away, they're constantly traveling around to where their crops are.

Also, they can't fit their gear in a backpack like most office workers. There's really only one option when your payload varies from hundreds or thousands of lbs to a few lbs, and that's living reasonably near your land, not to mention the variety of equipment that requires driving.

Your solution to small town newspapers dying off is to make people ride hundreds of miles a day on buses?

Where did he mention buses?

I see this asserted frequently, but I'm not convinced it's true. Focusing on agriculture, say that in 2020 a vindictive President Warren passes the Farmer Retribution Bill, banning commercial agriculture in the US, effective 2024. Would people starve in the streets, or would food prices rise slightly as international markets massively increase production and export to the US? Considering how much California and Mexico produce I already see in New York my hunch is that food can be shipped cheaply and efficiently, but I'm not basing that on much, and wasn't able to find any relevant research.

I would guess that you are massively out of touch with how much agriculture there is in America.

Without googling, I would estimate 50% by land area, between 1% and 5% of GDP. As America is about 5% of the world population, it wouldn’t significantly alter everyone else’s food production to supply you, leaving only the question of transport logistics.

The frozen pizza right in front of me is 240 cal per hundred grams; assume the average American consumes 3000 cal per day and that pizza is a representative calorie density, 1.25kg per person per day = 148 million metric tons per year.

Googling now, USA ports handle 2.3 billion tons per year [1], so that’s fine. Internal transport I don’t even have to think about because you must already have it in place or you’d already be starving because you couldn’t get the food from your own farms to your own shops.

[1] Figure 3-2 https://www.bts.gov/sites/bts.dot.gov/files/docs/browse-stat...

It's about 1% of GDP and employs less than 2% of the population.

Wikipedia says 922 million acres of land are used for agriculture in the United States, or about 40% of the total area of the country. I would guess that you'd have a hard time finding that much spare land lying around. Particularly in places that have the soil and infrastructure needed to support farming.

The population of the US is only 330 million. It's a net exporter of food, and Americans eat much more meat than most of the world, but even if you round up to the equivalent of feeding an extra billion people it looks like it's within the realm of possibility to replace all that agriculture:


And this article claims that the limiting factor is transportation infrastructure, not food production:


If that's the case then it seems like it's definitely possible. The US has good transportation infrastructure.

This doesn't even make sense as a hypothetical.

Why not? People assert that cities need the food grown in rural areas, so that implies the hypothetical that cities would suffer a lot without the rural areas. That goes against my general economic belief that production of easily transported goods in one country is usually easily replaced by production in another country, without large changes in prices anywhere.

Even if that were to make economic sense (it doesn't), you'd still have a major defence issue relying entirely on external food supply.

I will grant you the defense issue, that's important. But everyone commenting finds the economic argument so obvious that no one's bothered to make it. In normal times, why would moving food production out of the United States have a more significant effect than displacing some other industry of similar size (1% of GDP, about 2% of employment)?

But where will we put the odd little thrift shops and antique stores that only open a few hours on the weekend and don't seem to be economically viable despite lasting for years? They're fun to browse with a friend who appreciates your sense of humor.

What if I told you it was possible to have "odd little thrift shops" even in large towns and cities, because at that scale, neighborhoods replace small towns culturally?

It's just not the same without the run-down boom town aesthetic. Big town stores might have things from the '60s/'70s/'80s/'90s, but not things that have been there since the '60s/'70s/'80s/'90s.

I think going non-profit is the best option for local news.

Most of them already are non-profit, involuntary as that may be.

I'm assuming this is sort of tongue-in-cheek, but if you think about what a non profit setup would look like, it would basically be a subscription model, which people have shown they don't really care to support, or businesses "sponsoring" the newspaper by basically paying for ads that aren't a great investment, which is also already happening. And none of it is enough to keep these papers afloat.

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