The Local News Crisis Is Deepening America’s Divide

From a story on by Sara Fischer headlined “The local news crisis is deepening America’s divide”:

Around two newspapers in the U.S. are closing every week, according to a new report, suggesting the local news crisis spurred by the pandemic will worsen in coming years.

Why it matters: Hyperlocal communities are being disproportionately impacted by the fall of local newspapers compared to bigger cities, deepening America’s economic divide.

  • The average poverty rate in a news desert, or a community without a local newspaper, in the U.S. is 16%, compared to the 11% national average, according to the new report from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
  • “This is a crisis for our democracy and our society,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at Medill and primary author of the report, in a statement.
  • “[W]hile the economic decline in many communities was occurring prior to the rise of news deserts, the loss of a local news organization will leave local residents without the critical information to begin to address those problems,” Abernathy told Axios via email.
  • “At a minimum, the loss of local news worsens the political, cultural and economic divisions in this country.”

Details: The average median annual income of a home in a news desert is $15,000 less than the average U.S. household. Only 20% of adults living in news deserts have bachelors degrees compared to 38% in the U.S.

  • The lack of reliable local news compounds governance issues that make communities less efficient and prosperous. One study suggests government costs increase when local newspapers shutter.
  • The report cites access to affordable broadband as one of the barriers blocking smaller, rural communities from gaining access to new digital news alternatives as newspapers decline.

State of play: Around 7% of America’s counties now have no local news outlet and around 20% are at risk of their communities becoming news deserts in the foreseeable future.

  • The surviving newspapers are a fraction of their former size, and revenues and profits have significantly declined. In 2005, newspaper revenues topped $50 billion compared to roughly $20 billion today.
  • Newspaper employment has fallen by around 70% since 2006, with the most significant cuts (82%) attributed to production and distribution staff. The number of editorial staffers in local newsrooms have dropped by 58% to 31,000.
  • Since 2005, New Jersey and Texas have lost the most newspaper journalists per capita, but they — along with other heavily-populated states like California, New York and Illinois — have also seen the highest levels of new, digital investment.

Be smart: The demise of local news has caught the attention of many non-profits, community servants and wealthy individuals, but their efforts aren’t enough to fill the void of growing news deserts nationwide.

  • Most communities that have lost newspapers haven’t received a print or digital replacement.

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