It is equally hard to exaggerate how destructive this decline has been to the fabric and functioning of American democracy. One study found that in communities where newspapers close and there are no reporters keeping an eye on the decisions of local officials, municipal government wages, deficits, and borrowing costs rise. Local news outlets tend to be far more trusted by readers on both sides of the political aisle than national publications. When they disappear, citizens turn to national news sources, often partisan ones, or rely on social media for information. The result is more party-line voting and small-town residents mobilizing against mythical antifa infiltrations. Indeed, as this magazine has reported, the rise of authoritarian politics in America correlates to an alarming degree with the waning of local news.
After an ex-journalist moved back to his hometown and found that the local paper had closed, he created his own, staffing it mostly with teenagers.
“I used to think the problem with local journalism was that the people running them didn’t understand the internet. And I think genuinely the problem is they don’t understand newspapers. Because they don’t understand the job of journalism, which is to write stories about the community.”
Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara, one of the shooting victims. Chamblee praised the Capital Gazette’s staff for its undaunted coverage in the wake of calamity, and said that such work would be unthinkable now, given recent layoffs and the closure of the newsroom. “They can’t just drive around with a laptop in their car, and go to McDonald’s for the Wi-Fi to upload their story, and take the picture from their iPhone, and be everywhere they want to be and talk to everybody they want to talk to,” she said.
One year ago, the vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought nearly a third of the stock in Tribune Publishing, one of the nation’s most venerable newspaper chains, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sun-Sentinel, the Hartford Courant and others. Since then, the changes in Tribune have been swift and devastating.
Then a bold, if slightly desperate, idea came to him. In his brushes with the professional journalism crowd, he’d heard about an increasingly popular school of thought: if the press is a public service, it ought to be publicly funded.
Big stories and essential reporting don’t protect the Florida Times-Union from a fresh round of staff cuts.
Dr. Seema Yasmin, who studies the overlap of news deserts and health deserts, told Brian Stelter that those of us who live in news deserts are more likely to face not just a pandemic, but also a misinfodemic that fuels the spread of the disease. Speaking on Reliable Sources on CNN on Nov. 15, 2020, she said the press is “immune system of a democracy.”