People in rural Georgia are going without the news and information they need to stay connected and make changes in their communities. According to a new report called The State of Local News, there are 21 counties in the state without any news sources, and another 116 counties only have one outlet.
Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, which published the report, said most of these sources are small and primarily located in metropolitan areas. She added that of the 6,000 surviving newspapers nationwide, access will continue to dwindle.
“We are losing an average of two and a half newspapers a week now,” she explained. “And by the end of 2024, next year, we will have lost a third of all newspapers. Most of those were weeklies that served rural America. “
The problem’s not limited to rural areas. The report reveals that 20 out of the 50 largest metro areas in the country have lost nearly half of their community newspapers since 2005. To tackle this issue, more than 20 nonprofit organizations are planning to invest a total of $500 million over the next five years in local media organizations as part of the Press Forward initiative.
Tracie Powell, founder of The Pivot Fund, a philanthropy organization that invests in BIPOC-led community news, said The Pivot Fund recently conducted research highlighting the persistent issue of diminishing news coverage across the state, especially in rural parts of Georgia. She added this longstanding problem has significant implications for residents in already disadvantaged communities.
“Lack of accountability which leads to increased corruption,” Powell said. “You have increased apathy among community members because they don’t know or understand that they can affect change. “
Powell believes investing in trusted community sources that produce critical news and information for, about, and with their communities is crucial to reversing the decline of local news. She points to Lisa Galarza of Pasa La Voz as a positive example. Her news service addresses the Latino communities in Georgia and South Carolina.
“The publisher understands that her community largely does not speak or write in English, but she also understands that her community may not read or write in Spanish very well because they come from rural parts of Mexico and so she produces news and information that’s accessible to them even down to the syntax,” Powell said.
The report also suggests there are multiple ways to revitalize local news nationwide, including investments in broadband, exploring sustainable business practices, supportive policies, research, and outreach at the university and industry levels.
This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.