Local News Deserts and Rainmakers

Local newspapers are more important than ever but they keep disappearing.

| Spring 2019

Photo by Getty Images/prill.

When the Federal Communications Commission called for research on the “critical information needs of communities,” Philip Napoli, public policy professor at Duke, was surprised by the response to his scholarly efforts.

“People thought the government was putting their nose in newsrooms,” he said. “I found myself on Fox News with my donations laid out, including all of $500 for Obama,” he said.

However, he recently lauded the way governments in Norway, Sweden and Canada subsidize newspapers. Government intervention looked appealing in the wake of his study revealing “news deserts” around the U.S; where communities lack local news that meets “critical information needs.”

Lewis Friedland, Napoli and several colleagues, had identified those needs in a 2012 study for the FCC. They defined critical information as “those forms of information that are necessary for citizens and community members to live safe and healthy lives; have full access to educational, employment, and business opportunities; and to fully participate in the civic and democratic lives of their communities should they choose.”

The eight categories of essential news they identified were “emergencies and risks, health, education, transportation systems, environment and planning, economic development, civic information, and political life.”

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