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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,093
September 23, 2021
Newspapers Are Vanishing
By Mike McManus

Thomas Jefferson said, "Our liberty depend on freedom of the press. And that cannot be limited without being lost."

Since 2004 one fourth of America's newspapers have disappeared: - 2,100 newspapers! That includes 70 dailies and 2,000 weeklies. At the end of 2019 America had 6,700 newspapers, down from almost 9,000 in 2004.

Those that survive are often crippled. For example, this column was once published by the biggest paper in Alabama, The Birmingham News. Sadly, that paper now only appears three days a week.

For more than two centuries, newspaper editors and reporters were the prime, if not the sole, source of credible and comprehensive information. They set the agenda for debate of important public policy issues, and as a result, influenced the course of history.

Newspapers also nurtured social cohesion and political participation by putting into local context issues that may are national ones, such as health care or gun control.

The number of newspapers peaked in the early 1900s when there were 24,000 weekly and daily publications. By 2004 the number fell to only 9,000 papers still publishing. Since then, the United States has lost one-fourth - or 2,100 of its newspapers. In the country today there are 6,730 surviving papers, including 1,260 dailies and 5,470 weeklies.

Three-quarters of these papers have a circulation under 15,000. Sadly, about 1,800 of the communities that have lost a paper since 2004 do not have easy access to any local news sources.

An informed public, who used to read newspapers, are totally uninformed.

This has hit me personally. When I moved from metro Washington to a small Virginia town 150 miles away 18 months ago, I was able to have The Washington Post delivered to my house. Within two months, that ended but I could still buy the paper in a local drug store. However, that opportunity also ended weeks later. Now I can only read a local newspaper on a daily basis.

The impact on me is far less important than the overall trend of closing newspapers and shrinking coverage of matters important to readers such as education, health, politics - and religion. Television has been a powerful competitor for people's time.

There still are three national newspapers - The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Their circulations are in the millions.

However, as hometown papers disappear - and the state and regional papers lay off veteran journalists and pull back on coverage - the health of the nation's economy and our political system is imperiled.

In July 2019, the family owners of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio announced they were shuttering the 150-year-old newspaper. Managing Editor Mark Sweetwood told his staff, "We can't change the circumstances, but we are going to walk out of here with our heads held high."

At its demise, The Vindicator, which employed more than 30 journalists, had a circulation of only 35,000, serving a metropolitan area of a half million residednts, where a third are living in poverty.

Only four of the 70 dailies that have vanished had circulations above 100,000 when they closed and all were in two-newspaper cities - The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Tampa Tribune. Today there are only a handful of metro areas - most notably New York, Washington Chicago and Los Angeles - that still have two or more daily newspapers.

In 2009 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer switched to a digital-only publication. A spokesman for Morehead State University said a local economic development official, observed, "I can't say to a prospect, we've got everything you want in
a small town, except a newspaper...If you don't have a newspaper in your community, how backward are you?"

In 2015, The Washington Post abruptly closed all 20 of its Maryland weeklies in affluent Montgomery County when Jeff Bezos, who had purchased the Post, failed to find a buyer.

That left only one paper, the 165-year-old Montgomery Sentinel, to cover a county of more than 1 million residents. But in January 2020, it also closed.

The Brookings Institution reported that in early April, 2020, half of the 2,485 counties that reported COVID-19 cases, had no local newspaper to cover the news.

Sadly what's emerging in hundreds of communities is a "news desert." All residents in a community need access to critical information in order to make wise decisions that will affect the quality of their lives. Two-thirds of the nation's counties no longer have a daily newspaper.

This is tragic.

A free press is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution which states that "Congress shall make no law...abridging freedom of speech or the press."

Freedom of the press plays a vital role in informing citizens about public affairs, and overseeing the actions of government at all levels.

Sadly, that is shrinking.

_________________________

Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

 

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