News deserts? Let’s keep our oasis going

The Associated Press (AP) published an article  on June 30 about a recent study conducted by the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications.

The study revealed that newspapers are shutting down at a rate of two per week across the United States — and that’s with most citizens being fully aware of the problem.

At the end of May, according to the study, there were 6,377 newspapers, down from 8,891 in 2005. That’s a loss of 2,514 in 17 years. That’s almost 150 papers gone per year during that time.

The AP article stated that “While the pandemic didn’t quite cause the reckoning that some in the industry feared, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities.”

The study also found that roughly 75,000 journalists who worked at newspapers in 2006 no longer do so. Today, only 31,000 journalists are employed at such papers, according to Northwestern. That’s a loss of 44,000 jobs in 16 years. Pretty staggering numbers, especially when one takes into account that annual newspaper revenue dropped by more than half during that same time frame, from $50 billion to $21 billion.

Also discovered by the study is that parts of the country with no reliable local news sources are often poorer and older than sections of the country that are well covered.

The AP said more philanthropists and politicians have been “paying attention to the issues,” but added that’s not making much of a dent in providing solutions, as the problems that led to the breakdown of the industry’s advertising model remain the same.

“‘Encouraging growth in the digital-only news sector in recent years hasn’t been enough to compensate for the overall trends,’ said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the report’s principal author,” wrote AP reporter David Bauder.

In his piece, Bauder also wrote that “news deserts are growing.”

The report from Northwestern estimates roughly 70 million Americans live somewhere that either have no local news available or only one news source available. That, as we all know, is sorely inadequate and has led to a misinformed public.

Abernathy summed up the issue succinctly at the end of the AP article. What’s at stake, she said, is not only “our own democracy,” but “our social and societal cohesion.” A world without local community news is not only generally less informed, it also allows government and all of those in power to be less transparent in how they operate.

In addition, the Gallup annual survey of trust in U.S. institutions recently showed that newspapers ranked 12th out of 16 institutions, according to Axios, just after the presidency  at 11th and just before a tie for 13th between the criminal justice system and big business.

Guess that could be worse. After all, TV news was ranked 15th. Any guesses what was 16th? Right: Congress.

It’s a sad commentary on our American society today. If we don’t keep track of Congress and all other levels of government in a reliable and credible way, there will be no accountability and even less reason to trust those who run our nation. Those leaders will have no reason to be transparent in their work on behalf of We the People, and really, we will have only ourselves to blame.

This newspaper will do its level best to be here for our communities. Thank you for reading The Lakeville Journal and for being an engaged citizen. You are the hope of our country.

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