We’re losing an important voice in our communities

The pace at which community newspapers are going out of business is increasing. Axios reports, “The decline of local newspapers accelerated so rapidly in 2023 that analysts now believe the U.S. will have lost one-third of the newspapers it had as of 2005 by the end of next year — rather than 2025 as originally predicted.”

Axios reports there are still about 6,000 newspapers in America, but that is down from 8,900 in 2005. Newspapers are going out of business at a rate of two per week and, according to Axios, an estimated 204 counties have no local news outlet.

West Virginia has witnessed its share of newspaper closings and consolidations. The West Virginia Press Association reports six community newspapers have shut down in recent years and three others have merged, while only a couple new newspapers have started up or come online.

West Virginia newspapers provide their services online, but that still leaves many parts of the state without a local paper, since the state’s internet penetration rate is among the lowest in the country.

Local TV stations are providing more news than ever. Our radio network, MetroNews, covers state news and big local stories, and several of our affiliates cover local news, but these media sources cannot cover everything. They are reliable news outlets, but they are not a replacement for community newspapers.

Newspapers have been a convenient digest of community news delivered straight to your door. They round up what happened at town council, county commission or the school board in case you couldn’t spend your own time watching the latest meeting. Importantly, they shine a spotlight on how officials exert their authority or spend your taxpayer dollars.

The absence of local news leaves a void that is filled by national news. What happens in other parts of the country is also critically important, but it is not a substitute for local coverage. Meanwhile, Pew Research Center reports “A small but growing share of U.S. adults say they regularly get news on TikTok.”

Pew’s poll shows the short-form video service “has become especially popular among teens — two-thirds of whom report… using the platform.” Influencers and celebrities, many of whom have a vested interest, are the new “news reporters.”

This trend is deeply disturbing, and it does not bode well for our communities or our country.

Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The press is the chief democratic instrument of freedom.” The health of our republic depends on an informed and engaged public. Citizens who know what is happening in their communities are equipped to make better choices about governance.

The increasing deficit of local newspapers and their coverage of their communities makes it more difficult for citizens to make those choices.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at [email protected].