The spread of “news deserts,” or communities without access to a daily or nondaily newspaper, is growing across the U.S. at an accelerated pace, resulting in more areas throughout the country that are no longer covered by local reporting, according to recent data analysis conducted by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media & Integrated Marketing Communications.
The Medill School of Journalism report found that the United States has lost an average of 2.5 newspapers per week in 2023, totaling more than 130 confirmed newspaper closings or mergers within the last year. By comparison, newspaper closures averaged about two per week in 2022.
Of the 3,143 counties in the U.S., more than half—or 1,766 counties—now have either no access to local news or have only one remaining outlet, usually a weekly newspaper.
In total, there are now 204 counties in the United States that are “news deserts,” or communities without a single local news source.
Using predictive modeling, Medill now estimates that the United States is on track to lose one-third of all its newspapers by the end of 2024. Analysis additionally shows that 228 counties—or more than seven percent of the nation’s counties—are at an elevated risk of becoming news deserts within the next five years.
There are currently only about 6,000 newspapers remaining in the U.S., the vast majority of which are weeklies. Since 2005, the country has lost nearly 2,900 newspapers, according to Medill’s analysis, and during that same time, almost two-thirds of its newspaper journalists—or 43,000 reporters—the majority of whom were employed either by large metro newspapers or regional papers.
Digital news, long seen as a savior to local news, hasn’t fared much better. Medill’s report counted about 550 digital-only local news sites in the U.S., most of which are based in metro areas, or communities that most likely aren’t lacking a daily or nondaily newspaper. According to Medill’s analysis, however, about the same number of local digital startups have shuttered within the past five years.
Research for Medill’s annual “State of Local News Project” report was conducted by faculty, researchers and staff of the Medill Local News Initiative and the Spiegel Research Center and was based on data analysis of local news outlets from all 3,143 counties in the U.S.