News

The Journal Star of Peoria, Illinois, has seen its newsroom staff dwindle from 32 people just two years ago to 11 journalists, mostly through layoffs by GateHouse and the current owner, Gannett.

“The constricted staff means much less of the newspapering that readers want, such as in-depth and investigative pieces,” said Phil Luciano, a reporter and columnist at the Journal Star since 1988 who is the newsroom’s longtime Guild unit chairman. 

Despite the limitations, the staff is “rich with experience and thus excels, especially when there is big, breaking news,” Luciano said.

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana covers Lake and Porter counties, with a total population of 656,000 people, with a staff of seven people — two news reporters, a metro columnist, two sportswriters and two editors.

The newsroom staff of the paper, owned by Tribune Publishing, totaled about 50 people in 2010, according to sportswriter Mike Hutton, the Post-Tribune’s Guild unit chairman.

In Helena, Arkansas, population 10,300 people, money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program was a “godsend” for the weekly Helena World newspaper, publisher Andrew Bagley said. The paper’s staff consists of Bagley, a bookkeeper and two freelance writers. 

Poynter Institute has reported that 50 U.S. newspapers, mostly weeklies in small communities, have closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring. They are among the more than 2,100 newspapers — mostly weeklies and representing one in four newspapers — that have shut down since 2004, based on research on “news deserts” by journalism professor Penny Muse Abernathy at the University of North Carolina.

Readers called and emailed the Florida Times-Union over the past year with appreciation for the newspaper’s commitment to uncovering apparent secret deals behind the now-canceled attempt to sell the city of Jacksonville’s municipally-owned utility to a private entity.

There’s a hunger for accurate and useful news coverage right now — even more so than usual — because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic and because we’re now only a few months away from a consequential election for the state and the nation.

A look at the most read stories in recent days on The Daily Herald’s online publication, HeraldNet.com, shows that nearly half addressed either the pandemic or the Aug. 4 primary election.

SINCE EARLY APRIL, Kristen Hare—a reporter who typically covers local news innovations for the Poynter Institute—has been compiling a list of newsroom layoffs, cutbacks, closures, and furloughs, reporting most recently that the covid-19 pandemic has closed more than fifty local newsrooms across the United States. The Journalism Crisis Project—a joint venture between the Tow Center and the Columbia Journalism Review—depends on the work of important collaborators like Hare.

The decline of local news can have significant consequences for communities, Sullivan tells Couric. Citizens tend to become less civically engaged, less likely to vote and more likely to “go into their partisan corners” and vote along party lines when they do go to the polls. Without the contributions of local news reporters, Sullivan warns, “our democracy actually doesn’t work any more.”