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Rural Newspapers: A Vital Part of Life in Nebraska

There are 7,000 weekly newspapers across the country. (Jon S/Flickr)
There are 7,000 weekly newspapers across the country. (Jon S/Flickr)
January 2, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. -- About 63 million, or 16 percent, of people in the U.S. live in rural America and, while they increasingly embrace digital technology, they still rely on local newspapers to provide them with news the Internet can't.

Al Cross, who heads the Institute for Rural Journalism, said rural residents are 10 percent less likely to have broadband and smartphones than city-dwellers. And while many don't believe all the information they read on the Internet, Cross said trust in local newspapers remains high.

"I think there's always going to be a demand for news of your locality,” Cross said. "I think that journalism is essential for democracy, and rural communities, they deserve journalism - good journalism - too, and that people are always going to want the news of their locality."

Cross said rural residents no longer expect to get national and international news from their local paper, but want school, police and civic information that other news sources don't provide.

Between 2007 and 2015, more than 100 daily newspapers closed. Many blamed smart phones and trends among young people who now get their news online. But Cross contends the economic downturn is more to blame than a loss of readers.

"Most of the newspaper closures have come in, I think, the small towns of the Great Plains that have been hollowed out by population loss and are no longer large enough or viable enough to support a local newspaper,” he said.

He added that rural papers are doing better in the digital age than their metropolitan counterparts, perhaps because they don't try to be everything to all people.

"Metropolitan papers have always tried to give people local, state, national and international news, entertainment features and so on,” Cross said. "Now, people get most of that stuff elsewhere, and they get it in a more timely fashion."

There are currently 7,000 weekly newspapers and 1,200 daily newspapers across the country.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE