The “News Desert”

There is a tale told among news people about an editor of a weekly newspaper in the old west of frontier days who occasionally ran a blank column on his front page. Townspeople knew exactly what that meant. He had caught someone in an unsavory situation, and if the misdeed wasn’t corrected, he would run a story about it in the empty space.

The moral is that weekly papers play an important role in unearthing corruption. But a University of North Carolina study says that weekly newspapers are disappearing across America. UNC says the result is a developing “news desert,” since some 1,400 communities that once had a newspaper no longer have local coverage.

The readers can go to TV and the internet for national news but who is going to tell them about meetings of a village council or a zoning board. Or, cover local sports. When the 121 year old Warroad Pioneer went belly up last year, Reed Anfinson, president of the National Newspaper Foundation, told the Minneapolis StarTribune that rural communities are especially hard hit by closures. It is there that weeklies are important socially and civically.

The Pioneer was once the heartbeat of Warroad, Minnesota, a hockey town of 1,800 residents on the Canadian border.

The UNC study said that of nearly 1,800 newspapers whose voices have gone silent in the last 15 years, most of them are weeklies like the Warroad Pioneer.

Anfinson said that studies show that people in communities that no long have newspapers vote less and are less active in their communities. Even municipal revenue bonds become more expensive because lenders know there is no watchdog and corruption is more likely.

Is there a solution in the digital age for covering the news in communities without newspapers? Maybe some enterprising persons could create a local webpage to pass on the news. Better yet, if a high school has a weekly paper, widen its coverage to report town news and sports as well. It would be great training for emerging reporters who eventually want to join the media world.

So, it goes!

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