Thousands of local newspapers have turned into ghosts of their former selves, according to a new study from UNC's Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the School of Media and Journalism. The study defines these 'ghost newspapers' as having diminished quality, quantity and scope of their editorial content.
The two-year news desert research study, made possible by grants from the Knight Foundation and UNC's Office of the Provost, also found that almost 200 counties in the U.S. don’t have a local newspaper, and 1,800 local newspapers have gone out of business or merged since 2004.
The counties hit with the greatest loss of local news tend to be low-income, less educated and older, said Penelope Abernathy, report author and Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics. Most of the counties without newspapers often came from rural areas in the South.
“They're exactly the kind of communities that need strong news to help them see the way to the future,” Abernathy said. “So my first priority is trying to help prioritize both nonprofit, as well as for-profit spending and research into developing business models for those communities most at risk.”
The study brought industry databases together along with several UNC graduate and undergraduate researchers. Junior Natasha Townsend, a copy staffer for The Daily Tar Heel, became involved with the project this summer. As an aspiring journalist, she said she found the report disheartening for newspapers.