1,300 US Communities Have No Daily News Coverage As Newspaper Industry Continues Downward Spiral

An estimated 1,300 U.S. communities have lost news coverage as the newspaper industry continues on its downward spiral, according to a study by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism released Monday.

“The whole news food chain starts with daily newspapers,” Seattle Times reporter Mike Rosenberg wrote on Twitter Tuesday in response to the study.

Roughly 20 percent of the country’s metro and community newspapers have stopped their presses or merged with other newspapers since 2004, according to Poynter. That’s a decrease from approximately 9,000 newspapers to a little more than 7,000.

Penelope Muse Abernathy directed the study and is the Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at UNC.

“Trust and credibility suffer when local news media are lost or diminished,” reads a quote from Abernathy in the study’s report. “We need to make sure that whatever replaces the 20th century version of local newspapers serves the same community-building functions.”

Online news sites have cropped up to fill the gaps left by disappearing newspapers, but those sites often have trouble attracting funding or enough visitors to be self-sufficient, according to the study. The sites also tend to focus on metropolitan and suburban areas.

“The vast majority of the online-only news sites are located in the larger, more affluent markets, where they are most likely to attract paying subscribers, advertisers or philanthropic support,” the study stated.

The communities left with little to no news coverage are overwhelmingly rural, the study found. Some of the communities are covered, but barely. The study discussed so-called “ghost newspapers” that may be nothing more than a single-page insert.

Roughly 2,000 of the country’s 3,143 counties have no daily newspaper. Nearly 1,500 have only one newspaper, daily or otherwise, and 171 counties have no newspaper coverage, according to Poynter.

The newspaper industry has floundered in the digital age, and larger newspaper chains have consolidated their kingdoms by buying smaller ones. Now, the nation’s 25 largest newspaper chains control one-third of all newspapers, “including two-thirds of the country’s 1,200 dailies,” reported Axios Tuesday.

Some news sites pushed back against the study’s claim that so many communities totally lacked news coverage because they did not have a print option or a news outlet headquartered in their county.

“Not to dispute the larger point, but this shows California with 2 news deserts: Sutter and Alpine counties. Most people in Sutter County live in Yuba City, which is covered by the Appeal-Democrat. And Alpine County only has about 1,000 people,” the California Sun newsletter posted on Twitter Tuesday.

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