Study: Shuttered small-town newspapers sink community vitality
Friday, December 8, 2023
Three million residents in more than 200 U.S. counties don't have access to a single local news source, according to a new study.
In New Mexico, folks in five rural counties - Catron, Harding, Mora, Roosevelt and Torrance - often must rely on their cell phones for information, which can offer a diet heavy on national news as well as misinformation and disinformation.
Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, said most of the people who have a wealth of access to local journalism tend to live in larger metro areas, creating a "have and have not" media landscape.
"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," she said. "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 dollars over the next five years in local media organizations. The initiative, called Press Forward, is spearheaded by the MacArthur Foundation and supported by the Knight Foundation, 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. Without a strong tie to the community, Abernathy said, underserved populations may not hear about beneficial programs and services.
"It's a network - a vibrant network - 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," she said.
Since 2005, 875 of the 2,900 newspapers that have been permanently shuttered were in smaller counties. Abernathy said research shows a decline in local news is often correlated with a decline in voter participation.
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