The Accelerating Decline of Local News: A Crisis for Democracy

A Northwestern University study reveals that the decline of local news outlets in the United States is rapidly worsening, with one-third of newspapers and two-thirds of newspaper journalists lost since 2005.

Local news in the United States is facing a dire situation, with the country losing one-third of its newspapers and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists since 2005, according to a recent study by Northwestern University. The study highlights the alarming rate at which local news outlets are closing, with an average of 2.5 newspapers shutting down each week in 2023. This decline can be attributed to the worsening advertising climate, leading to financial struggles for these publications. While digital outlets have emerged as alternatives, they are also facing closures at a similar rate. The impact of this decline is far-reaching, affecting communities, democracy, and the spread of misinformation.

A Slow Drip: The Extent of the Problem

The Northwestern University study reveals that local news decline is not limited to a few areas but has affected every corner of the country. Currently, there are 204 counties without any local news outlet, and 1,562 counties have only one, often a weekly newspaper. This means that over half of the nation’s counties lack adequate local news coverage. Northwestern has identified 228 counties with only one news source as endangered, placing them on a “watch list.” Even populous states like Texas have experienced a significant loss of newspaper journalists, with a 65% decline despite a 50% population increase since 2005.

The Impact on Democracy and Communities

The decline in local news has severe consequences for democracy and community engagement. Studies have shown that reduced access to local news has led to increased political polarization, as people are less informed about local issues and rely on national news sources. Furthermore, the lack of local news coverage has facilitated political corruption and allowed misinformation to spread unchecked. The decline disproportionately affects rural and poor areas, exacerbating existing inequalities. While some affluent communities have seen the emergence of new local digital sites, those in rural areas with limited broadband access have been left behind.

Searching for Solutions

Experts and industry insiders are searching for solutions to address the crisis in local news. The Northwestern study suggests that public financing and increased philanthropic support could help sustain the industry. Additionally, the report highlights the potential of public broadcasting, such as NPR and PBS, to fill the gaps left by declining local news outlets. However, these public broadcasters also face funding challenges of their own. The study emphasizes the need for increased awareness and action to address this crisis.

Pockets of Success and Hope

Despite the bleak outlook, there are pockets of success that offer hope for the future of local news. The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, has expanded its coverage by adding 27 new reporters across the state. The publication aims to build enough digital subscribers to support a statewide newsroom by 2025. The report also highlights the case of The Recorder, a newspaper covering Bath, Highland, and Alleghany counties in Virginia. Despite facing closure in 2018, the newspaper managed to survive by doubling its subscription price and receiving donations from loyal readers during the pandemic.


The decline of local news in the United States is reaching a critical point, with closures accelerating and communities left without vital sources of information. The consequences of this decline are far-reaching, impacting democracy, community engagement, and the spread of misinformation. While there are no easy solutions, the Northwestern study suggests exploring public financing, philanthropic support, and the potential of public broadcasting to address the crisis. The urgency to act is clear, as the decline of local news poses a significant threat to the fabric of American society.






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