As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the United States, rigorous and informative news coverage is of utmost importance to local communities impacted by the virus — but a new study has found that a majority of these communities don’t have a local daily newspaper at all.
A study from the Brookings Institution found that of the 2,485 U.S. counties that have reported COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, 57% don’t have a local daily newspaper and, in total, 50% are news deserts, which are defined as communities with only one local newspaper or none at all. Of those counties without a local paper, 68% are located outside the city’s metro areas
“It is impossible to know what will not be told in the communities that have seen local newspapers disappear in recent years, but undoubtedly, important stories will go uncovered as the coronavirus spreads across the country,” Brookings research analyst Clara Hendrickson wrote.
Over the past few weeks, local news outlets have been hit hard as advertising — a main source of a paper’s revenue — has dropped with the ongoing closures of local spots like restaurants, bars, shops and event venues. As a result, numerous local outlets have had to furlough or lay off staff members.
Even before the pandemic began, local outlets in these communities hit by the coronavirus were still struggling to stay afloat, the study also found. Thirty-seven percent of those communities with COVID-19 cases saw their local papers disappear between 2004 and 2019. And between 2008 and 2019, the industry as a whole “saw a 68% decline in advertising revenue” that has forced outlets to pursue other sources of revenue.
In an interview with TheWrap last week, American Journalism Project and Texas Tribune co-founder John Thornton said that the pandemic has only further highlighted the problems with the industry’s over-reliance on advertising revenue.
“The newspaper industry has been addicted to advertising for 150 years,” Thornton said. “It’s been sort of a happy accident for 150 years that the newspapers that we relied on as a democracy had been able to run based primarily on advertising. That just is no longer true.”