Two local newspapers close each week in the United States

The story at a glance

  • Previous research has shown that when local news closes, participation in democracy declines and local officials are free to act without the press holding them accountable.

  • New nonprofit business models, bills and programs placing journalists in local newsrooms are all potential solutions to the crisis, and some successes have been reported.

Local news has been in decline for decades, thanks in part to the exodus of advertisers from classified pages to startups like Craig’s List, and the advent of the internet and social media.

New research from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications has painted an updated picture in a report that found two local newspapers are folding each week in the United States.

The results are concerning for rural communities unable to maintain local coverage. Areas that currently lack strong coverage also tend to have older, poorer, and less educated populations compared to areas that are well covered.

In information deserts, local officials are no longer held accountable for the misdeeds of the press, and an uninformed population tends to participate less in democracy.

Between the end of 2019 and May 2022, more than 360 newspapers closed, while since 2005 the country has lost more than a quarter of its local publications. This trend is expected to continue and by 2025 researchers predict that the United States will lose a third of its local newspapers.

The majority of communities that have seen a local paper fold have no online or digital replacement, putting one-fifth of the nation’s population, or 70 million Americans, at risk of living in an information vacuum. local, the researchers found. About 7% of counties in the United States currently have no newspapers.

“This is a crisis for our democracy and our society,” lead author Penelope Muse Abernathy said in a statement.

“Invariably, the economically challenged and traditionally underserved communities that need local journalism the most are the very places where print or digital news organizations are hardest to sustain.”

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The repercussions of local newspaper closures include increased dissemination of misinformation, increased political polarization, and reduced public trust in the media. Surveys have consistently shown that local media tend to command more public trust than national media.

Although corporate and philanthropic fundraising efforts in recent years have contributed to several new hyper-focused digital venues, these outlets tend to exist in “digitally connected urban areas with diverse funding sources,” according to a statement. release from Northwestern.

Newspapers that survived the change drastically reduced their staff and circulation, while conglomerates like Gannett, Lee Enterprises and Alden Global Capital bought huge shares of local newspapers across the country, the statement continued.

Adopting a not-for-profit model has resulted in some success for individual newsrooms.

Citing additional signs of hope, Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean, John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and Director of the Medill Local News Initiative, explained how new startups have also been launched in places like Baltimore. , Chicago and Cleveland.

“Some legacy news outlets are deftly transforming from print to digital,” he continued. “There are unrecognized local news leaders who are adapting and experimenting with new models. And local news is increasingly delivered through newsletters and other digital platforms. But the need to innovate is urgent.

Another potential solution offered by experts is to pair college journalism students with local newsrooms to increase staffing and coverage.

Report For America, a nonprofit that places reporters in local newsrooms across the country, has also grown in popularity in recent years and is based on similar public service projects like Teach For America.

Additional solutions include offering tax credits to individuals or businesses who subscribe to local news, a feature of the Local Journalism Sustainability Act.

Other countries that have seen a similar drop in news revenue are already engaging with social media companies or search engines like Facebook and Google to pay news outlets every time an article or link is published on the platform.

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