This is the fourth report by the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, documenting and analyzing the loss of local news and its implications for our democracy. In the years immediately following the 2008 recession, the decline has been relentless, and it appears to have been accelerating in the years leading up to 2020. Since our last report, The Expanding News Desert, was published in the fall of 2018:
- 300 newspapers closed, another 6,000 journalists employed by newspapers vanished, and print newspaper circulation declined by 5 million.
- Consolidation also increased, with the largest chains, backed by private equity firms and hedge funds, racing to merge with the last surviving publicly traded companies and form mega-chains with hundreds of newspapers, and management focused on shareholder return over journalism’s civic duty.
- Despite the efforts of other media, including commercial television and digital sites, to step into the breach, they have failed to thwart the rise of news deserts, especially in economically struggling regions of the country. Independent digital sites, once seen as potential saviors, are failing to achieve long-term financial security. While more than 80 local online sites were established in 2019, an equal number went dark.
Since then, the economic fallout from the coronavirus has turbo-charged the decline – with at least 30 newspapers closed or merged in April and May 2020, dozens of newspapers switching to online-only delivery of news, and thousands of journalists at legacy and digital news operations being furloughed or laid off.1 All of this raises anew fears of an “extinction-level event” that destroys many of the survivors and newcomers, and leads to the collapse of the country’s local news ecosystem.2