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What Happens to Democracy When Local News Dries Up

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What Happens to Democracy When Local News Dries Up

The end result is disasterous

The Washington Post,

5 min read
4 take-aways
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Can democracy survive the decline of local newspapers?

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The Great Recession, the digital revolution and COVID-19 took a terrible toll on local newspapers across the United States. Beyond cities and their suburbs, much of America is now a “news desert,” lacking meaningful journalism on local issues, reports Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post. Although local papers’ role as watchdogs and reliable reporters is crucial, their viability has become increasingly tenuous. Some innovative alternatives are promising, Sullivan says, if the public will accept them.


Local newspapers in the United States were in distress. COVID-19 made their situation worse.

From 2005 to early 2019, the United States lost 25% of its local newspapers — a reduction of around 2,100 publications. Most of the shuttered papers operated on narrow margins and became vulnerable as the Great Recession of 2008, the advent of digital publication and the loss of advertising revenue took a terrible toll on small news organizations.

The coronavirus contributed to the demise of at least another 80 newspapers, leaving only 1,000 US counties — a third of the total — with a daily newsprint publication. Many areas of the country, outside of cities and first-tier suburbs, are true “news deserts,” with no meaningful local news coverage. Economic pressures decimated the ranks of print journalists, leaving many surviving organizations to carry on as “ghost newspapers,” with a skeleton...

About the Author

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for The Washington Postpreviously served as public editor for The New York Times and the editor and vice-president of The Buffalo News.

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