Unpacking the Medill "State of Local News" report


In mid-November, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University issued its annual  "State of Local News Project" report, which now counts 6,000 newspapers in the United States, which comprises approximately 1,200 dailies and 4,790 weeklies.

This year, the study also reported on 550 digital-only local news outlets, 700 ethnic media organizations and 225 public broadcasting stations producing original local news.

The report's executive summary stated, "There was both good news and bad news for local journalism this past year. The good news raised the possibility that a range of proposals and programs could begin to arrest the steep loss of local news over the past two decades and, perhaps, revive journalism in some places that have lost their news. The headlines on the bad news resoundingly conveyed the message that urgent action is needed in many venues — from boardrooms to the halls of Congress — and by many, including civic-minded organizations and entrepreneurs."

Some of the report's key findings include:

  • There are now 204 counties with no local news outlet. Of the 3,143 counties in the U.S., more than half, or 1,766, have either no local news source or only one remaining outlet, typically a weekly newspaper. 
  • The loss of local newspapers ticked higher in 2023 to an average of 2.5 per week, up from two per week last year. There were more than 130 confirmed newspaper closings or mergers this past year. 
  • Since 2005, the U.S. has lost nearly 2,900 newspapers. The nation is on pace to lose one-third of all its newspapers by the end of next year. About 6,000 newspapers remain — the vast majority of which are weeklies.
  • The country has lost almost two-thirds of its newspaper journalists, or 43,000, during that same time. Most of those journalists were employed by large metro and regional newspapers.
  • There are about 550 digital-only local news sites, many of which launched in the past decade, but they are primarily clustered in metro areas. In the past five years, the number of local digital startups has roughly equaled the number that shuttered.
  • Based on the demographics and economics of current news desert counties, Medill’s modeling estimates that 228 counties are at an elevated risk of becoming news deserts in the next five years. Most of those “Watch List” counties are in high-poverty areas in the South and Midwest, and many serve communities with significant African-American, Hispanic, and Native American populations. 

New this year was a "Bright Spots" map that showed the local news startups in the U.S., highlighting 17 outlets they labeled “with promising new business models for the future.”

In this episode of "E&P Reports," we un-pack Medill's 2023 "State of Local News" report with co-authors Senior Associate Dean Tim Franklin and Visiting Professor Penelope Muse ("Penny") Abernathy as we investigate their latest findings and methodology, as well as what this data means when it comes to the future of local journalism in the U.S.



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