The pandemic did not reflect well on the country’s local newspapers. But perhaps not as bad as some people feared.
More than 360 newspapers in the United States went out of business shortly before the pandemic began, according to a new report from the Northwestern University School of Journalism.
The same pace – about two closures a week – was before the pandemic. Many newspaper analysts thought that the economic conditions created by the coronavirus, especially the reduction in advertising, would lead to a significant increase in this figure.
“The good news is that there were a lot of fears when the pandemic hit and we had very severe economic restrictions that this will be the death knell for many newspapers,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, author of the report. and visiting professor at the Medill Northwestern School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications. “The good news is that it didn’t happen. The bad news is that we are concerned that we continue to lose newspapers at the same rate that we have been losing them since 2005.”
The closure has perpetuated the problem of so-called news deserts, places with limited access to local news, the report says. More than one-fifth of Americans now live in these places, or in places that are in danger of becoming one.
Overall, 2,500 newspapers in the United States – a quarter of them – have closed since 2005. The country could lose a third of its newspapers by 2025. personnel and circulation.
The report states that investments in local journalism are mainly focused on larger markets. This has exacerbated disparities between communities with access to high-quality news organizations and those without.
“It fuels a nation that is divided by journalists, and when you have a nation that is divided by journalists, it exacerbates our political, cultural and economic divisions,” Abernathy said.
Large media companies such as Gannett, which were seen as the solution to a problem facing local journalism, are quickly selling or shutting down failed newspapers, according to the report. What’s more, the report says that private regional media companies, which “are not required to explain their strategic and financial decisions, list their largest shareholders, and report annual profits,” bought many of the failed newspapers.
“The truth is, who I choose for the school board affects me a lot more than who I vote for as president,” Abernathy said. “That’s why we need to get back to rebuilding local news in these struggling communities.”