America, we have a problem.
Newspapers, especially the smaller ones that often serve as the eyes and ears for their communities, are at risk of disappearing. that is according to the latest local news status Northwestern University report
“We are not only in danger; We’re losing local outlets,” said Penny Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at the Chicago-area school.
She says that as those papers disappear, so do their trained watchdogs who oversee local government.
Abernathy said, “Not only have we lost newspapers, we’ve lost 60% of the newspaper reporters we had in 2005. So, 60%—that leaves the 40,000 newspaper reporters we had in 2005, who are no more.”
For communities across the United States, the problem has created news deserts.
“We have areas where people have an abundance of local news. Typically, it’s in affluent areas and metro areas. And then we have areas where people really need to find local news and information and data. is what they need. And certainly those are the communities that need it most,” Abernathy said. “They’re low-income, and they’re traditionally in marginalized communitiesOften with large ethnic populations that have not been well served by mainstream media in the past.
A map developed by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism shows two or more papers in dark blue, one newspaper in light blue, and no newspapers in white.
“You lose a local newspaper, and you lose the person who shows up to a school board meeting, you lose the reporter who shows up to a zoning meeting or a county commissioners meeting,” Abernathy said. .
Memphis, Tennessee, is 64% black, 27% white. There, in the home of the blues, veteran journalist Wendy Thomas runs an online non-profit news source MLK50: Justice Through Journalism,
“When you’re relying on grants and foundations and the $10 checks your mom can write, it can be difficult to grow to the potential you want to be,” Thomas said.
Thomas introduced the MLK50 six years ago; Now he and his six full-time journalists ensure that the community’s voice is heard.
“I saw a void in news coverage that wasn’t being filled here in Memphis. And it was one of those things where, like, ‘Okay, who can do it better than me?'” Thomas said.
MLK 50 covers many topics. But its most important task is to ensure that those left out by the profit-oriented media are heard.
“We launched a newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy that traditional legacy newsrooms typically do not cover. But I knew we wanted to focus on marginalized people here in Memphis, people who aren’t often the subject of news coverage,” Thomas said.
During his 30-year career, Thomas worked at mom-and-pop newspapers and conglomerates.
“Rural communities have been hit hardest by the death of newspapers across the country,” Thomas said.
The advent of advertising on online and social media platforms led to the closure of many small newspapers.
“It means that in a lot of these places, there’s nobody whose job it is to pay attention to how tax dollars are being spent, what the county commission is doing, what’s happening in the jails. And the media. In the absence of that sunlight, all kinds of shadowy things happen in the dark,” Thomas said.
Online news organizations have popped up around the country that rely on private funding, such as foundation grants — outlets like the Texas Tribune and Block Club Chicago — but that model is hard to come by outside metro areas.
Abernethy says one solution could be to use public dollars to help operate newspapers and local online media.
“Western democracies in Europe and Asia have figured out how to do this very successfully. And in fact, if you look back, there has been a postal subsidy for most newspapers since the beginning of this country,” Abernathy said.
This story was originally published on ScrippsNews.com by Tammy Estwick, Alex Livingston, Lindsey Tuchman, Tammy Estwick, Stephanie Sandoval.