Jul 10, 2019

Cities are turning into news deserts

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.  

Go deeper

Local news deserts are getting some relief

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

News deserts in cities and small towns all over the country are beginning to capture the attention of big tech companies, donors, regulators and advocacy groups who want to step in and save local journalism.

Why it matters: Newspaper closures that started in rural America are creeping towards small and medium-sized cities. Often, the closing of local papers leaves communities without the watchdogs that can keep municipal governments accountable and productive.

Go deeperArrowJul 18, 2019

The next media mega-merger

Data: UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Gannett Co, the largest newspaper owner by circulation in the U.S., and its rival GateHouse Media, the largest newspaper owner by number of papers in the U.S., are currently in talks to merge, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The combination of the two publishing powerhouses means that a single company would own 1 in every 6 newspapers in the United States.

Go deeperArrowJul 23, 2019

Gannett and GateHouse combine to become largest newspaper publisher in U.S.

Data: UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

GateHouse Media and Gannett, the 2 largest newspaper chains in the U.S., officially announced a merger on Monday.

Why it matters: The combination of the two publishing powerhouses means that a single company would own 1 in every 6 newspapers in the United States, as Axios reported last month.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Aug 5, 2019