A new report says some Nebraska communities have lost a major source of local news this year.
The “State of Local News” report evaluates the availability of print and digital journalism for every county and state in the nation. Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism has released its annual findings since 2016, and the new report says Nebraska lost nine weekly newspapers this year, nearly 7% of the state’s weeklies. The daily newspaper total remained the same.
Visting professor Penelope Muse Abernathy at Medill said the loss of a newspaper can have a huge impact on a community.
“When you lose a weekly newspaper,” she said, “you not only lose the person who shows up at the school board or at the county commissioner meeting, or covers the local festivals, but you also are much less likely to get any sort of replacement.”
Eleven of Nebraska’s 93 counties now have no local news source, and 46 have only one. The report also mentions a $500 million commitment by philanthropists to support local news, the rise of many alternative news outlets and a growing awareness among policymakers about the need to bolster local news.
Only two of Nebraska’s neighboring states lost a higher percentage of weekly papers this year – Iowa lost 8% and South Dakota lost 9%. Abernathy said the current trends contribute to a deepening divide between urban and rural America.
As Abernathy put it, “What I worry about the most is, we’re moving toward a nation of journalism ‘haves’ — most of the people who have a wealth of access to local journalism tend to live in our larger metro areas — and the journalism ‘have-nots,’ they tend to be more in the rural areas.”
Also concerning, Abernathy said, is their observation that news deserts tend to have higher rates of poverty.
“So, this is a real issue about how you get information to people who desperately need the information that newspapers have historically provided,” she said, “that help them craft decisions to work toward a better quality of life.”
Nationwide, more than 200 counties lack a single local news outlet, and since 2005, the country has lost nearly 3,000 newspapers.