What’s Happening in Your Back Yard?

Is your local newspaper thinner-than-ever? Is it mostly advertisements, and those mostly for health care? Does your local paper even still exist? More than 20 percent of US newspapers have closed their doors in the past decade.

We hear a lot about food deserts, but what about news deserts? The competing newspapers in large cities used to keep each other on their reportorial and editorial toes, but bigger cities today generally have only one daily paper—or none. Coverage of local issues has diminished. And, in truth, readership has declined sharply. That isn’t only because citizens (like me!) prefer to get at least some of their news online, but by publishers’ business decisions. National and international news comes from the wire services, local news is almost non-existent. One in five Americans lacks a source of local news.

A ray of hope, then, in the coalition of 22 charitable foundations that has made a five-year, $500 million commitment to an initiative called Press Forward to help news organizations report on their communities. The effort is spearheaded by the MacArthur Foundation, and its president, John Palfrey said that the country is losing a newspaper every week, and “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.”

According to recent research from Northwestern University, communities that don’t have a strong print or digital news organization see declining voter participation and increasing corruption, due to the loss of the watchdog role.

The business case for local news will still be hard to implement successfully. Local media may be helped by proposal sin Congress and in seven states to give local news operations various tax credits and incentives, but innovative financing built on some mix of revenue sources will be needed and may not always succeed.