Study: Rural vibrancy diminishes with death of local newspapers
Thursday, December 7, 2023
The media landscape has dramatically changed in the past 20 years, evidenced by a new study that shows three million residents in more than 200 counties don't have access to even one local news source.
Starting in 2005, local newspapers began closing their doors -- with 2,200 out of business 16 years later. Journalists also fell by the wayside, their numbers cut in half in the same time period.
Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, said more and more, only those who live in large metro areas have significant access to local journalism.
"We are losing an average of two-and-a-half newspapers a week, and by the end of next year, we will have lost a third of all newspapers," said Abernathy. "Most of those were weeklies that served rural America."
In September, more than 20 nonprofit organizations announced plans to invest a total of $500 million over the next five years in local media organizations.
The initiative, called Press Forward, is spearheaded by the MacArthur Foundation and supported by organizations including the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The latest report also ties poverty rates to so-called "news deserts." In those areas, 17% of residents live in poverty, a rate higher than the national average.
Abernathy said without a strong tie to the community, underserved populations may not hear about beneficial programs and services.
"It's a network, a vibrant network," said Abernathy, "that we depend on to give us the news of the local school board, what's going on with the local county commissioner, and even to cover important community events that kind of bring us together as a community and remind us of what we share in common."
The report cites 17 "bright spots" across the country where communities have what Northwestern calls "excellent" reporting essential to democracy -- including Austin's Texas Tribune.
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