NORTH FULTON, Ga. — The dean of Grady College, the University of Georgia’s School of Journalism, says recent trends to trim newsrooms is inviting government corruption.
Charles Davis, who has worked in journalism as a reporter or professor for more than 30 years, says he is disturbed watching local papers continue to cut staff and decrease circulation in efforts to stay afloat, due in part to recent tariffs from President Donald Trump on Canadian wood products and paper.
The layoff announcements are picking up steam, especially at high-profile publications.
On July 23, The New York Daily News released half its newsroom. The paper’s owner, Tronc, said it plans other layoffs at other newsrooms across the country in the coming weeks.
Back in April, the Tampa Bay Times, one of the country’s 10 largest dailies, cut 50 reporters from its staff.
Davis got his start at papers beginning as a sports reporter for The Athens Banner-Herald, but he quickly decided his passion for sports didn’t make for a career in the field.
“I was so passionate about sports that I found it really difficult to cover it,” he said. “I would’ve had next to an impossible time covering critically UGA sports.”
Instead, he moved to business news, a world unfamiliar to him. Davis had a steep learning curve, which he said he found exciting, rather than intimidating. In one instance, an editor asked him to write a story on “risk arbitrage,” a term he hadn’t even heard of.
Davis later decided the academic world suited him, because he could attempt to help and influence the next generation of journalists. But he still feels connected to local papers, describing them as an essential part of democracy.
“Stripping bare newsrooms and leaving behind the remains of what were once really robust news companies is a national tragedy,” he said.
Davis said it is “remarkably painful” for him to watch as tariffs quicken the pace of what he described as a slow moving train wreck in the devaluation of local journalism.
However, Davis remains optimistic about the industry, pointing to certain companies who are now breaking even or profiting from digital platforms. Recent big-money philanthropic purchases of failing publications have also helped, he said, and may be part of the future of local news.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have seen steep rises in subscriptions in recent years, but Davis isn’t sure that national papers with huge followings solve the issue.
“If our goal as a nation is to have two or three national policy newspapers that are profitable because they are national franchises, that’s not going to keep us informed,” he said. “When you’re talking about city councilmen and county commissioners up there on the podium making decisions, looking down the room and not seeing a single member of the news media, I guarantee it will embolden them to do some really bad stuff.”
Davis doesn’t talk about corruption as a risk when elected officials operate without journalists in the room; to him it is an inevitability. The press is a watchdog that cannot be sacrificed in a democracy, he said, and to keep local news around will require a change from the citizenry.
As engrossed as he is in the world of news, Davis stresses the need for disengagement and other areas of passion and interest. He tells his kids that when they’re feeling low about the world to try to do something good for someone else.
Frequent trips to the movie theater also help Davis distract himself from his Twitter feed and the day’s disturbing news.
Through all of this, though, Davis said he has never worked a day in his life.
“I’ve been very, very, very lucky to find two careers in my life that were dream careers,” he said. “Journalism and teaching have given me everything.”