Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Journalists and other readers reply to NYT's request to tell how the loss of local papers has hurt their communities

This item has been expanded from its original version.

“Over the past 15 years, more than one in five newspapers in the United States has closed or merged with another paper, and the number of journalists working for newspapers has been cut in half, according to research by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism. That has led to the rise of hollowed-out ’ghost papers’ and communities across the country without any local paper,” Lara Takenga reports for The New York Times.

The Times asked those who live in such communities about how the loss of local coverage has affected them. Mount Dora, Florida, a town of 14,000 northwest of Orlando, lost the weekly Mount Dora Topic in 2006 because local advertisers chose to buy as space in larger nearby metro papers. But financial pressures have caused those metro papers like The Orlando Sentinel to pull back coverage of outlying; a small part of Mount Dora is in Orange County, whose seat is Orlando.

“After years without a strong local voice, our community does not know itself and has no idea of important local issues or how the area is changing and challenged by growth and the impact of climate change. We are a nameless and faceless town defined only by neighborhoods,” wrote Mount Dora resident David Cohea. “A few local blogs pick up commercial events that are relayed on Facebook, but aside from that, we only hear of murders and fires and hot-button controversies — the stuff of TV news.”

Most closed or merged papers are in suburbs, but include than 500 rural weeklies. In Sidney, N.Y., a town of 5,800 on Interstate 88 between Binghamton and Oneonta, The Tri-Town News "ended publication a year ago," Barbara Renton reports from Bainbridge. "There is no way to reliably learn about decisions of local governments, or even about the issues being raised. School news, religious news and upcoming and recent events are all lost. Even local advertisements that were helpful in planning for home improvements and gift-giving, not to mention posting local jobs, are gone."

In Millbrook, N.Y, between Poughkeepsie and the Connecticut border, The Millbrook Independent "closed its print operation after an eight-year run," editor-publisher Stephen Kaye wrote. "We started two weeks after the preceding paper closed, taking local news to a higher plane. We found circulation shrinking and tried migrating to the web, which worked for us but not for readers who didn’t regularly go to our web pages. School boards, town and village boards, county news, local news — it all disappeared. We were a check on governments, on endless environmental and zoning hearings, on budgets that we often published in detail, on misdoings and good doings. There is now a void. No one took up the slack."

Some rural papers are on the verge. "I’m on the cliff, about ready to close," wrote Caroline Titus, "the editor, publisher, reporter and office manager for probably one of California’s smallest newspapers, The Ferndale Enterprise," on the state's northern coast. "We’ve won a boatload of state and national awards, but I, too, am spitting into the wind. We’ve been through costly First Amendment battles, been told we were fake news long before you-know-who started muttering those two words. We’re currently cleaning toilets at two Airbnbs at our newspaper office to keep the presses printing. If we decide to shut the doors after 141 years, it’ll take us a year to wind down, we figure. We have to run out people’s subscriptions: can’t afford to give refunds!"

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