Last year we reported that the United States was losing two newspapers a week. That was 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 was 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.”
But it’s worse than that, and goes back further.
The industry actually began its free fall before the arrival of the internet. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 455,200 newspaper industry jobs in the US in January 1990. Leap forward 33 years, and the Bureau’s preliminary data for this past August puts total newspaper employment at 85,100 for the US – that’s a decrease of 370,100 jobs, or 81.3%.
And here we are. Somehow, the people in charge of newspapers, as well as many of those working under them, believed that they would never lose their market. But yet that appears to be exactly what happened.
The removal of those professionals from the work of verification and asking questions is contributing to what feels and looks like a cultural shift away from facts and trust. In other words, a loss of faith in public servants, and in many cases these are our neighbors, friends, and 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 earlier. And they are far better paid.
The result? Among too many examples to list, two years ago Long Islanders elected to Congress a candidate who now admits he lied about key parts of his background – including about easily verifiable things like employment and education. He lied about his heritage. He is now facing felony charges that he re-used his campaign donors’ IDs and made unauthorized charges on their credit cards.
Cynicism is rampant. What is happening to our culture? Many people appear to only be consuming news in order to lean into meaningless conflict on social media. 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? Sadly, I think we know the answer. There is time. But people would rather do something else now.
So it comes down to our choices. And 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 pings and text notifications. That 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, but the fate of the industry is no longer only in our hands. It’s in yours, and the grassroots effort it will take to fund the industry through subscriptions and memberships, rather than mostly advertising.
The value is still there. Particularly in a crisis. When people feared for their lives and livelihoods and needed good information when the pandemic arrived, they returned to us and other news organizations because we were still working after many government offices had closed or stopped answering their phones.
Hundreds of people asked CTNewsJunkie and the local TV news affiliates for help filing for unemployment online in 2020. We were more than happy to learn the process and guide callers as best we could between crunching numbers in excess mortality rates and streaming daily news conferences.
People complain about the news media – a lot, by the way – but we’re all trained to listen and ask questions, to dig up data and make sense of it. We’re trained to write and think on our feet. To investigate when it’s necessary. To advocate for public access to information on your behalf.
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.
Please take a moment to support CTNewsJunkie with a new subscription. If you already subscribe – THANK YOU! – but go ahead and suggest it to some friends. That’s a huge help.
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–Doug Hardy, Christine Stuart, Hugh McQuaid & the rest of the CTNewsJunkie crew