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The expanding news desert:The loss of newspapers and readers

January 3, 2020
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Vanishing Newspapers: The United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies. Roughly half of the remaining 7,112 in the country 1,283 dailies and 5,829 weeklies are located in small and rural communities. The vast majority around 5,500 have a circulation of less than 15,000.

Vanishing Readers: Print readers are disappearing even faster than print newspapers, and the pace appears to be accelerating. Over the past 15 years, total weekday circulation - which includes both dailies and weeklies declined from 122 million to 73 million. While more and more readers prefer to receive news online, this dramatic loss has been driven not only by changes in reader preference, but also by the business decisions of newspaper owners. The decrease in daily circulation comes primarily from the pullback of metro and regional newspapers from distribution to outlying rural and suburban areas. In contrast, much of the loss in weekly circulation since 2004 comes from the closure of more than 1,700 weeklies. This decrease in print readers raises serious questions about the long-term financial sustainability of both small community and large metro newspapers.

Who Lost The Most?: No state has been spared the death of a newspaper. California lost the most dailies of any state. Some of the most populated states New York, Illinois and Texas - lost the most weeklies. The loss of newspapers in one state has the potential to affect residents in many other states, since government agencies often rely on local news reports to help identify and contain public health crises and assess the impact of environmental disasters.

Living Without a Newspaper: There are hundreds - if not thousands - of communities at risk of becoming isolated news deserts. There are almost 200 of the 3,143 counties in the United States without any paper. An additional 1,449 counties, ranging in size from several hundred residents to more than a million, have only one newspaper, usually a weekly. More than 2,000 have no daily paper. The residents of America's emerging news deserts are often its most vulnerable citizens. They are generally poorer, older and less educated than the average American.

Silence in the Suburbs: Seventy percent 1,300 of the newspapers that closed or merged were in metro areas. All but 50 were weeklies, most with a circulation under 10,000. Their demise leaves a news vacuum for many of America's suburbs and urban neighborhoods, where residents have historically relied on community weeklies to keep them informed about the most pressing hyperlocal issues.

The Death of the Rural Hometown Newspaper: More than 500 newspapers have been closed or merged in rural communities since 2004. Most of these counties where newspapers closed have poverty rates significantly above the national average. Because of the isolated nature of these communities, there is little to fill the void when the paper closes.

The Shrinking State and Regional Newspapers: The dramatic pullback in circulation and coverage of state and regional papers has dealt a double blow to residents of outlying rural counties, as well as close-in suburban areas. Many of these communities have also lost their weekly hometown paper and are left without any credible and comprehensive sources of either local or regional political and economic news.

And Then There Was One: Fewer than a dozen cities of any size have two competing dailies. The lack of competition among newspapers in major metro markets often results in less coverage of local and state government, and residents of those cities pay the price. Studies have found that closure of a competing metro daily often leads to governmental inefficiency and higher costs for city residents.



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