People in more than half of U.S. counties have little or no access to a reliable local news source, according to The State Of Local News, a scary new report from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Overall, there are 204 counties without a local news outlet, and 1,562 with only one, usually a weekly newspaper. These areas are truly “news deserts.”
Moreover, the 2023 report contains, for the first time, a “Watch List” of communities at high risk of losing their last remaining outlet — there are 228. This is based on predictive modeling analysis conducted by the Medill Local News Initiative and the Spiegel Research Center.
Most of these under-served counties are in poverty-stricken areas in the South or the Midwest, often with significant Black, Hispanic or Native American populations.
The U.S. has lost almost 2,900 newspapers since 2005, including more than 130 closings or mergers, within the past year. Most were weeklies, the sole provider of local news in many small and mid-sized settings.
Two newspapers are disappearing every week.
Perhaps worse is the loss of 43,000 journalists, two-thirds of the country’s total, since 2005. Most worked for large metro and regional dailies owned by the 10 largest chains.
We don’t have to tell you who they are.
On a positive note, the State of Local News Project partnered with Microsoft to generate a “Bright Spots” map showing all local news startups in the U.S. over the past five years.
This map also highlights 17 local news outlets with promising new business models for the future.
The study comes with more than 400 interactive maps that drill down to the county level.
On another note, there are 550 digital-only sites, 720 ethnic media organizations and 215 public broadcasting stations, mostly in metro areas.
In addition, philanthropists have funded $500 million to support local news.
But, overall, the picture is grim.
“The significant loss of local news outlets in poorer and underserved communities poses a crisis for our democracy,” says Penny Abernathy, Medill visiting professor and a co-author of this year’s report. “So, it is very important that we identify the places most at risk, while simultaneously understanding what is working in other communities.”