October 12, 2021
Shifts in the media landscape in recent decades have left an increasing number of Americans living in "news deserts," or counties without a local paper. Since 2004, approximately 2,100 newspapers — nearly one in four — have gone out of print, leaving well over 1,300 communities without local news outlets. Hundreds more have reduced their coverage to the point that they've become what researchers characterize as "ghost newspapers" – papers that cling to life but are too financially hobbled to serve any worthwhile democratic function. Nearly all of the others have scaled back as well, just not as far. This trend has certainly been consequential for these local communities, but the decline of local news nationwide has also deprived American democracy of one of its key support structures, and it has fueled the nationalization and, by extension, polarization, of our politics. Finding a way to revitalize local media could be a big part of the solution to revitalizing our politics.