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Newspaper closures cripple our democracy

American newspapers close at the rate of two a week, after David Bauder from Associated Press, referring to a recent study. In most cases there is no replacement, creating a wasteland of news. The lack of local news is bad for our society.

The Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University recently updated its multi-year research on the status of newspapers in the United States. At the end of the line ? “It is a crisis for our democracy and our society,” the study says.

To solve the problem of how we secure local news, we must first understand the problem and what it means. The following is excerpted from Medill’s 2022 State of Local News Report Summary:

  • Newspapers continue to disappear at a rapid rate. On average, more than two per week disappear.
  • Digital alternatives remain rare, despite an increase in corporate and philanthropic funding.
  • More than a fifth of the country’s citizens live in information deserts – with very limited access to local information – or in communities at risk of becoming information deserts.
  • The surviving newspapers – especially the dailies – drastically reduced their staff and circulation as the revenues and profits from printing evaporated.
  • The biggest chains control the fate of many surviving newspapers in the country. Their business strategies and decisions continue to shape the local news landscape.
  • There’s a new – often overlooked – media baron on the scene, aggressively buying up dailies and weeklies in small and midsize markets.
  • Dailies are more like weeklies, and vice versa, but their business models and strategies diverge.
  • Despite the recent increase in corporate and philanthropic funds, the footprint of digital-only news sites is small and predominantly in large cities.
  • The disparity between communities that have strong news outlets and those that do not is primarily a result of market demographics, ownership structure, and available funding.
  • Getting information to communities that have lost the information involves rethinking both current journalistic practices, as well as for-profit, nonprofit, and public funding policies at the national, state, and local levels.

It is a nation increasingly divided journalistically, between those who live and work in communities where there is an abundance of local news and those who do not. Invariably, the economically challenged and traditionally underserved communities most in need of local journalism are the very places where print or digital news outlets are most difficult to sustain.

The loss of local journalism has been accompanied by a malignant spread of misinformation and disinformation, political polarization, the erosion of trust in the media, and a gaping digital and economic divide between citizens. In communities without a credible source of local information, voter turnout drops, government and corporate corruption increases, and local residents end up paying more taxes and cash.

The State of Local News 2022, The Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

Click here to access the full State of Local News 2022 report.

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