Local news has long served as a vital part of American communities. However, it’s now struggling to keep up in a world dominated by the internet and mired by misinformation. In these unprecedented times, reviving local journalism is essential to the future of our democracy.
Newspapers, the backbone of local journalism, are dying off fast and leaving behind ‘news deserts,’ or places without a consistent news source. Since 2004, the U.S. has witnessed a steep decline in newspapers, with many either shutting down or merging with other news organizations. A report by the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media reveals that about 200 counties lack access to a local newspaper. That’s millions of people deprived of basic information about their schools, businesses, hospitals and city halls.
In addition, the surviving newspapers face immense challenges due to record drops in advertising revenue and readership. Financial woes have left newsrooms understaffed and under-resourced, limiting their abilities to produce original, high-quality coverage of local events.
Media experts attribute the demise of local journalism to the news industry’s failure to innovate. For years, despite massive economic and technological changes, newsrooms remained dependent on the same ad-driven business model to stay profitable. However, the advent of social media in the early 2000s crushed this model once and for all. This is because digital platforms like Google and Facebook offer businesses something newspapers cannot: precise audience targeting.
With ad revenue moving online, newspapers are losing money, resources and relevance in an increasingly digital world. Consequently, communities are being left in the dark, forced to turn to social media where they’re vulnerable to mis- and disinformation. The local news crisis is therefore about more than just broken business models and dying newspapers. It’s also — and most importantly — about democracy.
A strong local press ecosystem helps keep our democracy healthy. Local news connects us to our neighbors and sheds light on issues we may otherwise be unaware of. It also creates social change by encouraging conversation among community members, inspiring political activism and holding elected officials accountable. Simply put, local news plays an indispensable role in making our communities safer, more vibrant places to live.
But as local journalism continues to fall deeper into crisis, so does civic life across the country. According to the American Journalism Project, communities without local newsrooms are experiencing a decline in voter turnout and an increase in government waste as well as public polarization. These trends warn that, if left unaddressed, the local news crisis will lead to a less informed, less engaged citizenry and a more corrupt, more unchecked government.
Despite the emergence of social media as a major news source, quality journalism still has a valuable place in our communities. We all deserve reliable information on what is happening around us, as well as a space dedicated to illuminating our everyday struggles in an in-depth manner. Whether a small donation or a subscription, every contribution counts because the revival of local journalism will protect our democracy against the threats of today and tomorrow.