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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

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

Rahm Emanuel. Photo: Joshua Lott for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Biden taps former Obama communications director for press secretary

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Jen Psaki, who previously served as Obama's communications director, will serve as President-elect Joe Biden's press secretary, the transition team announced Sunday.

The big picture: All of the top aides in Biden's communication staff will be women, per the Washington Post, which first reported Psaki's appointment.