“Newspaper and tea” by Matt Callow is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787
The Mail Tribune publisher and CEO Steven Saslow announced that its newspaper would be closing operations on Friday, January 13, 2023. The Mail Tribune, based out of Medford, Oregon, can trace its beginnings back to 1906; it covered southern Oregon and other news for over 100 years. Saslow noted that declines in advertising revenue, and difficulty hiring staff, contributed to the decision to shut down the paper’s operations. The Mail Tribune’s recent shutdown is not a novel story in today’s current local media landscape. According to a Northwestern University report, an excess of 2,500 of the U.S.’s newspapers have closed since 2005. In addition to routine and numerous newspaper closures, the industry has seen papers dramatically reduce their staff and in turn, their coverage of particular news items.
The nationwide closures of local newspapers means that more communities are without journalists and media outlets covering the topics directly affecting their lives. The Director of the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon notes that “…closures of news outlets are felt particularly acutely in less populated, rural communities… It often results in a rise in political corruption, in polarization, in disengagement and loss of community connection.” The Director’s comments mirror findings by business professors from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Notre Dame who studied community expenditures and found that counties that had lost newspapers ended up paying higher interest rates on things such as bond issues, and these same communities experienced an increase in government inefficiencies. Similar studies have found that voter participation declined in local elections once a newspaper closes in a community.
Findings in 2011 from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) noted that newspapers are the best medium to provide the public service journalism, which includes highlighting the major issues confronting communities. The FCC stated that newspapers give residents the information they need to solve their problems. The FCC’s findings underscore the news media’s perceived role as the ‘fourth estate’, or the watchdog entity tasked with serving as a vital check on power of those holding elected office and other influential public and private figures. The importance of this role, some believe, is why the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in part reads “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom… of the press”.
This week’s Current Events resources examine the role local newspaper and new media plays in communities and civic life. The resources shared provide information and context regarding newspapers, journalism, the freedom of the press in the United States, and the current media environment in the United States.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- How does the U.S. Constitution address freedom of the press?
- What is meant by ‘the fourth estate’?
- What is a “news desert”, and how may they affect citizens who happen to live in one?
- How has the U.S. Supreme Court helped shape the parameters of which the press may operate under the law?
- Why is a free and comprehensive press essential for self-government?
- What are some interventions communities, governments, and businesses are trying to ensure local media continues to exist? Are these efforts yielding the intended results?
- In your opinion, what role should citizens, governments, and businesses play in local news media?
- In your opinion, how vital, if at all, is local media to exist in a community?
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and News & Media Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
When Local News Dries Up, Ways & Means Podcast, Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, September 30, 2020
No News is Bad News, On The Media, NPR, May 8, 2020
The Loss of Local News – The Impact, After the Fact, The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 28, 2020
Starving The Watchdog: Who Foots The Bill When Newspapers Disappear?, Hidden Brain, NPR, December 10, 2018
First Amendment, Constitution of the United States, Library of Congress
Why Local News Matters, and What We Can Do to Save It, New York State Bar Association
Strong Local Newspapers Are a Key to Strengthening Our Democracy , George W. Bush Institute
Research and Reflections, The Future of Local News
What is the purpose of journalism?, American Press Institute
Grosjean v. American Press Co., Ballotpedia
Mail Tribune, storied newspaper in Medford, to abruptly shut down, The Oregonian, January 11, 2023
Medford Mail Tribune to ‘cease all operations’ Friday, Ashland News, January 11, 2023
As newspapers close, struggling communities are hit hardest by the decline in local journalism, Northwestern Now, June 29, 2022
Newspapers Have Been Struggling And Then Came The Pandemic, Forbes, August 20, 2021
Ethnic media was devastated by Covid. Now publishers are struggling to self-fund., NBC News, June 27, 2022
Could Oregon Duplicate A Bold New California State Initiative To Fund Journalism?, Jefferson Journal, Jefferson Public Radio, January 10, 2023
ThisWeek newspaper chain to be shuttered by Gannett, Axios, January 9, 2023
The Importance of Reporting “Close to the Ground”, The Hudson Independent, January 10, 2023
A 10-point plan for the government to shore up local newspapers, The Seattle Times, December 16, 2022
No, Elon Musk: Newspapers don’t just copy the internet. They’re democracy’s backbone, The Kansas City Star, December 21, 2022
Bowing to the changing nature of newsrooms, we made a difficult decision, The Register-Guard, November 2, 2022
Lesson of the Day: ‘When the Student Newspaper Is the Only Daily Paper in Town’, The Learning Network, The New York Times
The Importance of a Free Press, Facing History and Ourselves
Media literacy — news that’s nice to know, news you need to know, PBS Newshour Classroom
How the disappearance of local news hurts civic engagement, PBS Newshour Classroom
Bell Ringer: The Decline of Local Newspapers, C-SPAN Classroom
Why Does a Free Press Matter?, Bill of Rights Institute
Resources for Younger Students:
Looking At Newspapers, Media Smarts
How is News Produced?, The Guardian Foundation