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Cities are turning into news deserts

A news paper stand for The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio.
A paper box in Vindicator Square in Youngstown, Ohio. Photo: Jeff Swensen for The Washington Post via Getty Images.

News deserts that have been spreading across rural America are creeping towards small and medium-sized cities.

Why it matters: For decades, newspapers have served as a powerful check on the power of local municipalities. In their absence, city governments are becoming less efficient and fewer politicians want to run for local office.

Driving the news: The closure of The Vindicator, 150-year-old local newspaper for Youngstown, Ohio, has led to fears that that many similar small- and medium-sized city newspapers around the country will soon face a similar fate.

  • As Nieman Lab’s Josh Benton notes, many dying papers are owned by families who are tired of trying to revitalize shrinking businesses.
  • Those family owners typically sell to big newspaper chains, like Gannett or McClatchy. But when even the big chains don’t want to save those papers, there’s a big problem. 

Papers still in business are scaling back: The Chicago Defender, a paper published for the city's black community since 1905, is ending print publication this week.

Be smart: Academics have found that without the critical government oversight facilitated by newspapers, city municipalities are wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and are becoming less efficient.

  • “Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Notre Dame found that municipal borrowing costs increase after a newspaper ceases publication,” the AP reports.
  • Academics have also pointed out that that fewer politicians are running for smaller local government positions, like mayor, because there’s less local newspaper coverage of those races.

The bottom line: The watchdogs that have kept municipal governments accountable and productive for more than a century are disappearing.