How a ‘local news crisis’ is making American ‘political and economic divisions’ even worse: report

How a ‘local news crisis’ is making American ‘political and economic divisions’ even worse: report
Economy

The internet and the digital revolution have changed journalism dramatically in the United States and other countries. What were once strictly weeklies (Time, Newsweek) now function as dailies on their websites, and daily newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune aim for a national audience. Moreover, something that would have been treated like strictly local news 25 or 30 years ago — for example, two people getting into an angry political argument in a local convenience store in Nevada — can easily become a national story in online journalism.

In the high-tech journalism landscape of 2022, according to Axios reporter Sara Fischer, one of the things that is suffering the most is local journalism. And Fischer, in an article published by Axios on July 4, points out that this “local news crisis” is aggravating the United States’ political divisions.

Discussing a new report from Northwestern University in the Chicago area, Fischer explains, “Around two newspapers in the U.S. are closing every week, according to a new report, suggesting the local news crisis spurred by the pandemic will worsen in coming years. Why it matters: Hyperlocal communities are being disproportionately impacted by the fall of local newspapers compared to bigger cities.”

READ MORE: Ford Foundation president calls for Americans to overcome a ‘toxic culture of absolutism’

Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications and the report’s primary author, described the shortage of local journalism as “a crisis for our democracy and our society” in an official statement on the report. And she elaborated during an interview with Axios.

Abernathy told Axios, “While the economic decline in many communities was occurring prior to the rise of news deserts, the loss of a local news organization will leave local residents without the critical information to begin to address those problems. At a minimum, the loss of local news worsens the political, cultural and economic divisions in this country."

Fischer notes that “news deserts” in the U.S. tend to have more poverty and less education than areas that aren’t news deserts.

“The average median annual income of a home in a news desert is $15,000 less than the average U.S. household,” Fischer observes. “Only 20% of adults living in news deserts have bachelor’s degrees compared to 38% in the U.S. The lack of reliable local news compounds governance issues that make communities less efficient and prosperous.”

Fischer describes the “local newspaper sector” as being “in in a state of terminal decline.”

“More than 360 newspapers shuttered between late 2019 and May 2022, according to the report,” Fischer explains. “The vast majority of those papers were printed weekly. At this rate, the country is on track to lose more than one-third of its total newspapers by 2025. It's already lost more than a quarter, 2500, since 2005.”

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