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News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers: Will Local News Survive?

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media – “The paradox of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic shutdown is that it has exposed the deep fissures that have stealthily undermined the health of local journalism in recent years, while also reminding us of how important timely and credible local news and information are to our health and that of our community. This is a watershed year, and the choices we make in 2020 – as citizens, policymakers and industry leaders – will determine the future of the local news landscape. Will our actions – or inactions – lead to an “extinction-level event” of local newspapers and other struggling news outlets, as predicted by some in the profession? Or will they lead to a reset: an acknowledgment of what is at stake if we lose local news, as well as a recommitment to the civic mission of journalism and a determination to support its renewal? In only a few months, the pandemic and the ensuing recession have greatly accelerated the loss of local news that has been occurring over the past two decades. Layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs have affected thousands of journalists in 2020. Dozens of newspapers have been closed, and there is the threat of dozens – even hundreds – more closures before year’s end. While we don’t yet know what the news landscape will look like in a post-pandemic world, we do know there will be a “new normal.” Because this is a pivotal moment, now seems an appropriate time to hit pause and document the state of local news today. That way, we can begin to address the underlying structural issues that have contributed to the rise of news deserts.

This report is the fourth on the state of local news produced by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It measures what has been lost, while also assessing what must be done if we are to nurture and revive a vibrant news landscape in the third decade of the 21st century…”

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