Great early review!

Booklist, the American Library Association’s monthly magazine, has given Death of the Daily News a great review. This is particularly good news because librarians typically use this magazine as a guide for what they buy to lend. Publishes September 2022. Pre-sales available now

“Conte exposes the weaknesses of both traditional top-down journalism and the ‘citizen gatekeepers’ who have since filled the breach, while arguing that the answer resides in the public truly understanding the value of knowing about their community, and then leaning hard into the media still available to them, including Facebook groups, blogs, local gatherings, libraries, even flyers. A lifeline for communities who have lost, or are in danger of losing, their local papers.”

The full Booklist review by Alan Moores goes live on August 11 here.

Have and have-nots of local news

Communities with at least a little bit of wealth have local news, while those struggling economically also tend to be news deserts. That’s the perhaps-not-entirely-shocking finding of a recent report about news deserts from Northwestern University. Under the traditional news model, journalism depends on advertising for revenue – and advertising depends on local businesses.

I recently wrote about how two communities near Pittsburgh have the same name – Sewickley Borough, an upscale suburban community, and Sewickley Township, a poorer rural community – but vastly different types of local reporting…

“What worries me the most is that we have a growing divide in the U.S. around journalism that mirrors the divide we have politically, culturally, economically and even digitally,” Penny Abernathy, the lead study’s researcher, says. “The loss of news creates a crisis for not only our democracy but for society and community cohesion.”

In communities like Sewickley Township, the crisis in local news means that residents are losing touch and that political leaders face little accountability. People who attend public meetings often get frustrated and lost because they do not understand what’s going on. The government posts its meeting agendas and notes, but no one reports out the nuances or background information.

At the same time, people who are ill-informed share their opinions on social media — but often get the facts wrong.

Read the full column here.

This summer, I came across The New Canaan Advertiser in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, once described by CNBC as “the most affluent county in one of the most affluent states.” Owned by Hearst since 2018, the weekly newspaper features stories about a local chef selling gourmet ice cream, a lighting bug sanctuary, legislative candidates debating gun safety and more.

How can this one little newspaper afford to provide so much coverage? Check out the ad at the bottom of the front page…

A newspaper that serves readers who might afford to purchase a $34.9M teardown in Palm Beach probably has enough of an economic base to support local journalism. The challenge remains how to bring back local reporting in all the communities whose readers cannot.

Historic Setting: Penn-McKee Hotel

McKeesport’s Penn McKee Hotel, left, when it opened in 1926 (via the Post-Gazette), and now with graffiti, broken windows and chainlink fencing (by author).

Death of the Daily News opens with an historic moment in the nation’s history involving a public debate between two future presidents:

Two first-term members of Congress, John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, boarded the Capitol Limited train at Washington’s Union Station on the Monday morning of April 21, 1947, headed to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, the economic and spiritual center of the Monongahela River Valley and home to 100,000 unionized industrial workers. As the two newest members of the House Labor and Education Committee, the lawmakers were scheduled to appear that night at the Penn-McKee Hotel before more than 100 people at an event sponsored by the local Junto Forum, a business-minded civic group.

Like much of the Mon Valley, the Penn-McKee Hotel has seen more glamorous days. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently ran a story highlighting what has been lost in McKeesport, block by block. The closure of The Daily News takes place against this backdrop of a community in crisis.

Many news deserts exist in places that suffer a variety of economic losses. A study by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism points out one more growing divide across America: Places that are relatively well-off tend to have robust local news while those that are struggling often also lack original journalistic reporting. Lead researcher Penny Abernathy put it like this:

“The people most likely to live without news are those in communities that need it the most, those that are economically struggling communities, those communities that have been traditionally underserved. We’ve had a collapse of the for-profit, business models that sustain local news organizations in those communities for a number of years.”

Community leaders in McKeesport have been trying to decide what to do with the Penn-McKee: Tear it down to remove the eyesore – or attempt to salvage what’s left? For now, the building remains standing, albeit with broken windows and graffiti. A historic market memorializing the day of the debate sits behind a chainlink fence.