Sara Fischer reports via Axios: The decline of local newspapers accelerated so rapidly in 2023 that analysts now believe the U.S. will have lost one-third of the newspapers it had as of 2005 by the end of next year — rather than in 2025, as originally predicted. There are roughly 6,000 newspapers left in America, down from 8,891 in 2005, according to a new report from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “We’re almost at a one-third loss now and we’ll certainly hit that pace next year,” said the report’s co-authors — Penelope Muse Abernathy, a visiting professor at Medill, and Sarah Stonbely, director of Medill’s State of Local News Project. Of the papers that still survive, a majority (4,790) publish weekly, not daily.
Over the past two years, newspapers continued to vanish at an average rate of more than two per week, leaving 204 U.S. counties, or 6.4%, without any local news outlet. Roughly half of all U.S. counties (1,562) are now only served with one remaining local news source — typically a weekly newspaper. Abernathy and Stonbely estimate that 228 of those 1,562 counties, or roughly 7% of all U.S. counties, are at high risk of losing their last remaining local news outlet.
There isn’t enough investment in digital news replacements to stop the spread of news deserts in America. The footprint for alternative local news outlets is tiny and they are mostly clustered around metro areas that already have some local coverage. The report estimates that — for outlets focused on state and local news — there are roughly 550 digital-only news sites, 720 ethnic media organizations and 215 public broadcasting stations in America, compared to 6,000 newspapers. The authors argue that the dynamic between those with access to quality local news and those who don’t “poses a far-reaching crisis for our democracy as it simultaneously struggles with political polarization, a lack of civic engagement and the proliferation of misinformation and information online.”