The United States lost 2,100 newspapers in the past 15 years, “leaving at least 1,800 communities that had a local news outlet in 2004 without any at the beginning of 2020,” according to Penelope Muse Abernathy of the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism. Editor & Publisher, a trade publication for newspapers, recently reported on these areas without newspapers in its most recent issue.
“Those were local newspapers that reported on high school sports, local business openings, the deaths of prominent residents and what would be happening on Halloween and Christmas. But most importantly, they also were the go-to place for people who wanted to know what their city, county or state government was (or wasn’t) doing about important issues, like crime and real estate development. Sometimes, their publishers were people a reader might run into at a local restaurant or community event and could call or email to share a story idea (or a complaint.)”
As E&P also noted, at least 1,400 local news publications, most of them digital, have begun to fill the news deserts. E&P noted, however, that many of these digital publications fall short of filling the areas with legitimate news. Many of these digital publications receive conservative or liberal funding, including from individuals.
So what are the concerns? Aren’t newspapers like just about everything — such as farming, health care or schools — constantly evolving? Don’t those who fail to adjust get left behind?
That’s true to an extent. But there are many concerns with this type of thinking. Many digital publications lack transparency, including who is funding them and whether any of the reporters are local, even living in the United States.
In addition, few places offer as much diversity of opinion as a local newspaper on issues important to readers, such as the focus of stories or letters to the editor. People also may offer their own thoughts on everything from a kind gesture that restores confidence in fellow humans to questioning the actions of the local city council. There also are stories that might promote cultural understanding or editorials that challenge popular beliefs. People share their opinions on what’s in the paper with each other.
There are no easy answers to the challenges that newspapers face. We at the Daily News are thankful that we have thousands of readers who care about their communities and are willing to support it through subscriptions and advertising.
The Founding Fathers knew the importance of newspapers. George Washington said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” That might be a little extreme, but it provides a good analogy of the fate of democracy over time without newspapers.