By Carl Justice ’21
Local publications have been going out of business at an alarming rate. A report by Penelope Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill explained that 2,000 publications had gone away in the past fifteen years. This is almost one fourth of the 9,000 that existed before the sharp downturn.
Unfortunately, the decline in local newspapers has left many communities vulnerable. The Brookings Institution found that 50% of US counties that had a COVID-19 case in early April are labeled as “news deserts” because they have one or fewer news organizations local to their community.
This means that local COVID-19 issues, among other concerns, may have gone unnoticed due to a lack of local journalism.
In fact, local journalism is critically important. The New York Times explained in November 2019 that when newspapers cut down on staff significantly, something that has happened to nearly every publication over the past decade, even those doing comparatively well, many journalists are pulled away from the work that is most essential, like investigative reporting or politics, and are moved to other fields to fill gaps from laid-off workers.
A 2017 study conducted by professors from George Washington University and American University found that declining local political news coverage decreases political engagement. They believe that with the continued downward spiral that we are seeing today, there will be significant long term effects.
Additionally, journalists often deter corruption. A study conducted by professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Notre Dame found that “when newspapers close, the loss of government monitoring can substantially increase the cost of local government for taxpayers. They found that with fewer watchdogs, government salaries rise, deficits increase and borrowing costs go up.”
Because of this, it’s critical that everyone does what they can to support their local publications, whether that be subscribing digitally, referring friends or looking into newspapers across the country.
Moreover, we all need to actively use and recognize the value in local reporting. Instead of watching the national news every night, switch it up a bit. Read a newspaper article or listen to a local radio station to support institutions that are just as important, yet need your help at a much greater level