Front Page Talking Points


Local news-gathering outlook includes 'great possibility' amid wider newspaper closings


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A troubling trend – loss of local newspapers – accelerates. More than 130 U.S. papers closed or merged this year, says a recent report from Northwestern University's School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill. That's slightly higher than in 2022. Roughly 6,000 newspapers survive, a 32-percent drop from 8,891 in 2005. Nationwide, 204 counties have no local news outlet, while another 1,562 (nearly half) have just one – typically a weekly.

Since 2005, the Illinois researchers found, our nation has lost nearly 43,000 journalists through staff cuts as well as shutdowns. When communities in less affluent or less densely populated areas lose their local newspaper, there's often no replacement such as a public broadcasting station, ethnic media or an alternative weekly.

"The significant loss of local news outlets in poorer and underserved communities poses a crisis for our democracy," says Penny Abernathy, a Medill professor who has studied "local news deserts" for over a decade. Vanishing newspapers make "it harder for people to hold their state and local elected officials accountable," her school's study says. "With fewer journalists covering city halls and state government, the average citizen knows less and less about what their local government officials are doing."

Report co-author Sarah Stonbely, adds this perspective: "We are at a moment of great loss but also great possibility for local journalism. . . . It's a very exciting time. As depressing as it is, it’s also a very exciting time to be in the local news space." Bright spots come from nonprofit groups that are trying to restore local coverage, often assisted by foundations that support digital news start-ups. (Medill identified 164 small news outlets that began during the last five years and still are active.) "The bottom-up growth of locally based news organizations has already provided communities with news that would otherwise go unreported," journalists Ellen Clegg and Dan Kennedy write in "What Works in Community News," a book coming out next month.

Researcher says: "It really is still a country of journalism haves and have-nots in a lot of ways. In a lot of rural and less affluent counties, there just isn't any local journalism at all." -- Sarah Stonbely, "State of Local News" project director at Northwestern

National initiative: A campaign called the Press Forward initiative, announced in September, unites 22 philanthropic groups that pledge to invest half a billion dollars in local news over the next five years.

Foundation leader says: "We are losing a newspaper in America every week, and that's a dangerous thing for American democracy. It's hard to have a democracy when you don’t have good local news. When you lose credible news sources, misinformation and disinformation swoop in." -- John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.