As Local News Shutters, U.S. Communities Pay the Price

Local news is on the decline and it’s having a profound community impact.

As local newspapers shutter and newsrooms downsize, Americans are left without the reliable, in-depth reporting that keeps them informed about critical issues in their neighborhoods. This vacuum not only diminishes public awareness and accountability but also weakens the social fabric, as fewer stories about community events, local government, and public health are told. In an era where misinformation can easily spread, the absence of strong local journalism makes communities more vulnerable to external influences and less equipped to address their unique challenges.

The Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism found that the decline of local newspapers accelerated to an average of 2.5 per week in 2023, up from two per week the year prior. This rapid decline has left another 200 counties across the country without a local news outlet, meaning that more than half of all U.S. counties now have limited access to reliable local news and information. Predictive modeling from Medill researchers shows that another 228 counties are at high risk of losing their local news sources over the next five years. These counties are primarily located in high-poverty areas in the South and Midwest, with many servicing minority populations.

While local news organizations are declining, new research from the Pew-Knight Initiative demonstrates that Americans still value local news. The Pew Research Center’s May 2024 report, “Americans’ Changing Relationship With Local News,” found that 85% of U.S. adults recognize the importance of local journalism to the well-being of their community. While the majority of Americans value local journalism, the report found that nearly half of Americans (48%) prefer to get their local news online. The growing preference for digital news at the click of your finger may be contributing to the decline of local news. According to Medill’s latest report, of the under 6,000 local newspapers remaining, only 550 are digital-only news sites, and most local news organizations, which include a mix of print, online or broadcast outlets, are weekly publications.

As the news landscape continues to evolve, local journalism’s essentiality remains unchanged. Medill visiting professor Penny Abernathy, a co-author of the report who has been studying local news deserts for more than a decade, explained the need to find solutions to this growing problem. Abernathy said, “The significant loss of local news outlets in poorer and underserved communities poses a crisis for our democracy. So, it is very important that we identify the places most at risk, while simultaneously understanding what is working in other communities.”