Democracy dies in darkness. Readers keep the lights on.
On a recent episode of the Northern Light podcast by North Country Public Radio, Ken Tingley, a former editor of the Glens Falls Post-Star, presented this terrifying situation: “I found out this year that the town of Queensbury, where I live, is going to increase taxes 56%. That’s an amazingly large figure!”
Because the local meetings in Queensbury were not covered, the increase went in without anyone noticing. This could be a reality in the Tri-Lakes area if newspapers ceased to exist. If the Adirondack Daily Enterprise or Lake Placid News had reported such a proposal locally, residents would have been showing up in droves to contest the outcome. Such a drastic increase simply wouldn’t have happened. It is proven without newspapers, taxes increase, because there is less accountability. In addition to numerous negative effects, without newspaper coverage, fewer people are going to vote and the community will suffer as a whole.
Does this sound like a world you want to live in?
This is a reality for many communities across the country.
Around 2,500 newspapers have closed in the United States since 2005, the New York Times reported last year.
To put that into perspective, a 2018 study performed by the UNC School of Media and Journalism found that of 3,143 counties in the United States, over 2,000 of those did not have a daily newspaper. Of those counties, 171, with 3.2 million residents, had no news coverage at all.
Since this study was conducted, we have been through the pandemic and the resulting economic pressures have forced many more papers to close — meaning news deserts have only grown in scope and number.
This data clearly shows that local journalism is hurting.
What’s less clear is the role of the reader in this decline.
It has been well-established that there is a link between those who support local journalism are more civic-minded.
Newspaper demographics show a high percentage of older readership in many areas across the country, and younger readers — while they do exist — haven’t historically been enough for many newspapers to replenish lost subscribership. Because the internet has free information, more and more readers expect their news to be free. Pressures from social media have compounded issues, with many electing to get their news for free from online sources of varying levels of authenticity and bias.
All of this, in turn, reduces viability for newspapers, which reduces the amount of quality local content that can be produced.
All the while, misinformation is allowed to spread on social media without accountability, while newspaper’s have a set of standards they abide by. Some of those in power use this to their advantage, trying to discredit reliable sources for their own benefit.
It’s a vicious cycle that ultimately hurts the reader, as local politicians are provided with a cover of dusk which blocks accountability and obscures transparency.
We may be here today, still delivering quality journalism to your doorstep, but don’t take that for granted as 2,500 communities already have.