Vargas Co-Sponsors Bill Supporting Creation of Commission to Examine Local Journalism

A new bill filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich and co-sponsored by Rep. Andy Vargas aims to create a government commission to study “communities underserved by local journalism." (File photograph)

At a time when acquisitions of local papers by international chains and waves of mass layoffs mean the news industry itself is often making headlines, a state lawmaker has offered up a plan she hopes will “sound the alarm.”

Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat, filed a bill that would create a 17-member commission to study “communities underserved by local journalism," including “the adequacy of press coverage,” effects of social media, print and digital business models, and “public policy solutions to improve the sustainability of local press business models and private and nonprofit solutions.”

The State House News Service reports Ehrlich's bill is co-sponsored by Haverhill state Rep. Andy Vargas.

As proposed, the bill would give the commission a year to report its findings. The panel would include lawmakers, gubernatorial appointees, and representatives of journalism schools, news industry groups and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Ehrlich said there is a “strong local media market” around her district, but some other parts of the state “could be classified as a media desert.”

Though consolidations and downsizing are national trends affecting an industry in the private sector, Ehrlich said she believes state government could still have a role to play in convening experts to address the issue.

“As our newsrooms are shrinking, we will have less information and accountability, and that’s not good for democracy,” Ehrlich said. “I think there’s a role for the state to sound the alarm and put experts in the room to see what ideas emerge.”