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When the News Goes Out of Business

In an age dominated by electronic media, print newspapers are finding themselves in jeopardy of financial troubles and, in the worst case scenarios, going completely bankrupt. The world of journalism in DC has already seen such casualties: on September 12, 2019, Washington Post Express, a free daily newspaper that had been distributed by The Washington Post across the DC area for the previous 16 years, printed its final issue before shutting down for good. The Express’s final headline blamed the digital age for its untimely closure, reading: “Hope you enjoy your stinkin’ phones.” The paper’s website also ceased updating after its final issue was published. The loss of the Express was a disappointing blow to its 200,000 daily readers in Washington, DC.

Another local newspaper in Washington, DC shared the same fate earlier in 2019. The Current, a local weekly newspaper that served the residents of Northwest DC for 52 years, was forced to abruptly cease publishing after their May 8 issue, because it went bankrupt. The roughly 100,000 recipients of its weekly publication were left without a newspaper to cover neighborhood-specific events, including school news, a police blotter, local events, and more. Much like the Express, The Current has not updated its website since shortly after the closure was announced. With the loss of The Current, the “local” newspaper for residents of Northwest DC became The Washington Post. And, of course, a national newspaper such as The Post is not equipped to accurately cover local news, especially after The Post’s loss of the Express months later. This is especially relevant when The Post’s editorial board endorses a candidate in DC’s local elections. Because not all of their staff lives in the District, there is no guarantee that they are all thinking in the city’s best interests, or with the perspective of a DC resident. Such a move can potentially be incredibly harmful to the city’s government, policies, and residents in the long run.

Losing the Express and The Current meant that their combined 300,000 daily and weekly readers in the DC area lost a connection to their local news on paper and online; and although there are other local news outlets in DC, other areas where this has happened are not so lucky. According to a report by Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Media Economics at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, in the United States “[m]ore than one in five papers has closed over the past decade and a half [as of 2018].” As a result, she says, “Half of the 3,143 counties in the country now have only one newspaper, usually a small weekly [publication]… [and] [a]lmost 200 counties in the country have no newspaper at all.” Therefore, thousands of Americans are left without a newspaper to read about what is happening around them. And while some may be able to access the internet in order to get informed, Abernathy notes that other citizens live in what she calls “news deserts,” defined as “a community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level,” In short, many who have been left without a local newspaper may not have an online alternative. This leaves a significant amount of the country at a huge disadvantage and creates room for misinformation to spread, which can impact citizens both on a local and national level.

In a year of both a major election and a worldwide pandemic, access to accurate news and information is incredibly important. People must be informed about decisions by local governments and local businesses, both of which greatly affect their daily lives. People who are unemployed need to have access to job listings for their area that traditionally show up in the local newspapers. Citizens must be able to stay on top of coronavirus updates in order to remain informed and to take care of their own health, as well as the health of their communities. Voters in every state need to remain informed on every campaign, both local and federal, as well as other news that can affect a candidate’s policy decisions, in order to make their best judgement on who to vote for when they head to the polls (or send in their ballots) in November. And since even the smallest stories can have an impact on our daily lives, it is crucial that news, both in print and online, remains accessible to readers nationwide so that everyone can stay up to date on current events and be prepared for what lies ahead.

This article originally appeared, in a different form, on the News Media Alliance’s website, and is reprinted here with permission.