When Newspapers Die, We Need a Blueprint for Community Information Needs

In May, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families reported a 55 percent drop in reports of child abuse and neglect. No one believes that instances of child abuse were down by that much. They were likely not down at all, especially considering the extenuating circumstances and stress of families being quarantined together. The difference was no witnesses—the teachers, doctors, neighbors, family friends and bystanders weren’t there to notice something was wrong and report it.

The parallel to journalism is obvious. More local newspapers will shut down this year than in recent memory. New rounds of newsroom layoffs are turning others into weak and woefully incomplete stewards of local journalism.

With no witnesses, reports of corruption and incompetence in powerful institutions will go down, as corruption and incompetence in powerful institutions actually increases. No one will be watching.

We know that the decline of local journalism leads to less civic engagement. Fewer people run for local offices when newspapers disappear. There’s evidence that the cost of government goes up without the scrutiny of local reporters.

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