Combatting the Growth of “Local News Deserts” in the U.S.

Millennia has actively supported community journalism in Minnesota as instructors in the Rural Editors & Publishers Community Leadership Program. The Minnesota Newspaper Association operates the annual training that is funded by the Blandin Foundation and has involved 108 newspapers since 2005.

The participants of the 2018 program focused on the challenge of sustaining their newspapers and buck the growth of “news deserts” across the nation - counties served by one local newspaper or none at all.

According to the School of Media and Journalism in the University of North Carolina, more than one-fifth of the nation’s dailies and weeklies closed up shop in the past 15 years leaving over 3 million Americans in 171 counties without a local newspaper and over half of U.S. counties with only one paper.

News Desert map.png

Click on for an interactive map showing the status of each state.)

The Upper Midwest region is beating the odds. Only one county in Illinois and Wisconsin is without a local news service while Minnesota and Iowa have community-based papers statewide. As the sole generators of local content, a big problem is not the loss of relevance in public affairs but the loss of print advertising as main street businesses give way to malls and big box stores that promote mostly online.

The search for new revenue models is intense. As a capstone project in the 2018 leadership program, the Editor and Publisher of the Perham Focus launched the “Bricks and Clicks” partnership between area newspapers and struggling businesses with the following intent:

“Community newspapers are the watchdogs of their communities and strive to be a reflection of the world around them by bringing readers the news, sports and information happening every day. But just as the newspapers seek to find their footing within the evolution of its industry, so too are local businesses finding themselves at the losing end of a battle with big online retailers. As small and medium-sized stores close their doors around lakes area communities, The Perham Focus is now turning its focus on how it can help.”

The paper joined with other area publications to feature a steady series of stories featuring local enterprises and educating the public on the importance of shopping locally.