Ghosting the News
In an upcoming Washington Post Perspective column, Post opinion writer Margaret Sullivan takes a heartfelt and hard-to-turn-away-from piece about the decline in community newspapers over the past few decades. In the article — “What America’s local news crisis means for our democracy.” Sullivan builds on a theme she began last year with the publication of Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy, a must-read for anyone (which should be everyone) who is affected by the demise of local weekly and daily newspapers.
To those of us who have been in the news business for the past 30–50 years, the acceleration delta with which locally-sourced and produced news publications have disappeared from mailboxes, driveways, front yards, and roofs has been breathtaking, particularly within the past 12 years.
Sullivan writes, “Already in a sharp downward spiral, the local news industry was it hard by the covid-19 pandemic. The worst blows were taken by newspapers — businesses that, as a group, had never recovered from the digital revolution and the 2008 recession. Between 2005 and the start of the pandemic, about 2,100 newspapers closed their doors. Since covid struck, at least 80 more papers have gone out of business, as have an undetermined number of other local publications, like the California Sunday Magazine, which folded last fall — and then won a Pulitzer Prize eight months later.”
Sullivan continues, “Those papers that survived are still facing difficult straits. Many have laid off scores of reporters and editors — according to Pew Research Center, the newspaper industry lost an astonishing 57 percent of its employees between 2008 and 2020 — making those publications a mere specter of their former selves. They are now “ghost newspapers”: outlets that may bear the proud old name of yore but no longer do the job of thoroughly covering their communities and providing original reporting on matters of public interest.”
One statistical analysis Sullivan highlighted — based on data from Northwestern professor Penny Muse Abernathy while she was at the University of North Carolina…