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The Crisis Facing American Journalism Did Not Start With the Internet

For decades, newspaper conglomerates lapped up profits and failed to adapt. Our communities are worse off for their folly.

recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina sounded the alarm about a growing problem for American democracy: the number of cities in the U.S. that could be classified as “news deserts” without local news to hold powerful people accountable. We have lost about 20 percent of local newspapers in the United States since 2004, and at least 900 communities now are without any local news source in that same time frame.

The problem is in full focus this week after news of layoffs at three major media companies. While a lot of the attention is focused on national players HuffPost and BuzzFeed, the cuts at Gannett are the most worrisome, because it is one of the last big newspaper chains that has properties in markets of all size.

That the Gannett news is not a red-alert story in the U.S. reflects a misunderstanding of the major problems facing American newspaper companies, an economic story that goes back further than the advent of the public internet in the 1990s. But it’s a story Americans need to know and understand better, because the news crisis you keep hearing about is a local problem. If you think there’s corruption in D.C., what’s happening at City Hall is often worse—and in more and more places, there’s no longer anyone paid to root it out.

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