That’s the headline from the Nieman Journalism Lab, which was sounding the alarm about the 2022 State of Local News report by Northwestern University’s Medill School. And as you might have gathered, the news about the news is pretty grim:
The U.S. has lost a quarter of its newspapers since 2005 and is losing two a week (almost all weekly papers) on average, according to a new report from Northwestern University’s Medill School. In all, 2,500 American papers have disappeared since 2005.
Those newspaper closures represent the loss of tens of thousands of professional verifiers and fact-checkers in the news industry. The removal of those professionals from the work of asking questions is likely contributing to what feels and looks like a cultural shift away from facts and trust. A loss of faith in public servants – and in many cases these are our neighbors, friends, and even family members.
According to the US Census Bureau, there were 6.4 public relations professionals for every journalist in the U.S. in 2018, up from 1.9 public relations staffers for every journalist just 20 years previous. And they are far better paid.
The result? Among too many examples to list, this year Long Islanders elected to Congress a candidate who now admits he lied about key parts of his background – verifiable things like employment, education, and even his heritage. Apparently, no one checked. Not his opponent, not the New York Times, or any of the other reporters covering the election in Long Island. Someone other than the candidate must have known.
What is happening to our culture? Is it cynicism? Are people only consuming news in order to lean into meaningless conflict? Or is there no longer enough time in the day to actually read a balanced diet of news beyond a text alert or social media post?
Maybe our addiction to smartphones is showing. Studies suggest people spend an average of about 147 minutes a day on social media. That’s almost two and a half hours. We are constantly bombarded with notifications. We’re not sure if that’s the biggest issue here, but it seems like a pretty significant data point.
What we are sure of is that professional news reporting is absolutely crucial to the continued existence of the key institutions of democracy. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why we need more engaged Connecticut residents to join our membership program in support of the public service journalism we do at the state Capitol. The state legislature is in constant motion. Connecticut’s Executive Branch has enormous influence over how state government operates – impacting all of us in more ways than we can count. We want to be there asking questions. You need us there asking questions.
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The legislative session is starting in less than a week.
Thanks in advance for anything you can afford. And Happy New Year!