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.
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.