Dec 4, 2023 - News

Virginia's newspaper decline

Local news outlets, by county
Data: Medill Local News Initiative; Note: Includes newspapers, public broadcasting outlets, ethnic media outlets and digital sites that cover local news; Map: Simran Parwani/Axios

Virginia's local newspapers are declining more rapidly than predicted, a new study finds, creating deserts void of trustworthy and nonpartisan news.

Why it matters: News outlets play a crucial role in keeping communities informed and connected. Studies have shown that civic engagement declines when they close.

By the numbers: Virginia has lost 23 local newspapers since 2005 — according to a report from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. That's a 23% decline.

  • Seven of the state's 133 cities and counties — Buckingham, Caroline, Franklin, King & Queen, King George, Northampton and York — have no local newspaper, while 93 others have just one.

The big picture: The decline of local newspapers accelerated so rapidly in 2023 that analysts now believe the U.S. will have lost one-third of the newspapers it had as of 2005 by the end of next year — rather than in 2025, as originally initially forecasted.

  • There are roughly 6,000 newspapers left in America, down from 8,891 in 2005.
  • Of those that survive, most (4,790) publish weekly, not daily.

Zoom in: Virginia has 178 total news outlets — 116 of which are newspapers, per the report.

Meanwhile, the report found that consolidation of newspaper ownership "has been a significant driver" in the decline of papers.

  • It noted that two of the nation's largest newspaper ownership groups — Gannett and Lee Enterprises — own 36 newspapers that don't employ any local staff at all, putting out so-called "ghost newspapers," publications compiled by off-site corporate staffers.

Worth noting: Lee Enterprises owns a dozen Virginia papers, including the Times-Dispatch, which shed more than a third of its staff last year, Style Weekly reported.

  • Today the one-time paper of record for the city has just 10 full-time news reporters, according to its online staff directory.

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