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Rural Newspapers Holding Their Own in Digital World

Local newspapers are counting on their ability to give their readers the types of content the Internet cannot. (Waferboard/Flickr)
Local newspapers are counting on their ability to give their readers the types of content the Internet cannot. (Waferboard/Flickr)
January 4, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa – About 63 million, or 16 percent, of U.S. residents 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, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism, says 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 says trust in the local newspaper remains high.

"I think there's always going to be a demand for news of your locality,” he stresses. “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 says 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 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 points out.

Cross adds 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,” he explains. “Now, people get most of that stuff elsewhere, and they get it in a more timely fashion."

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

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA