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Newspapers Under Pressure: New Media Barons and 'News Deserts'

Flickr / JB

Flickr / JB

More than 120 newspapers across the country folded between 2004 and 2014, and while digital news platforms are drawing plenty of eyeballs, they're not taking up enough economic slack. What does this mean for journalism and for an informed democracy?

"Stop the presses!" used to mean major, electrifying news was unfolding. These days, though, they could be the most dreaded words at a newspaper. Some newspapers have folded, many have been sold, most have significantly thinned their newsrooms, and the outlook for the industry hasn't improved since the Great Recession. Even though digital traffic to newspaper websites is rising, it's not enough to offset steep print declines.

Like other sectors of the media, newspapers are seeing major consolidation as media companies merge and investment companies buy up newspapers at reduced prices. That has given rise to a new type of "media baron" that is "more focused on maximizing shareholder value" than serving the community, said Penny Abernathy, the Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.

The industry's economic challenges have also resulted in what Abernathy calls "news deserts" - communities without a local newspaper. Other communities have become "endangered regions" with a newspaper "that is just hanging on financially."

These issues are hashed out in Abernathy's recently-released report, "The Rise of a New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts." A veteran of journalism, Abernathy shares her thoughts on the pressures facing newspapers and possible solutions for sustaining the industry.


Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Media Economics, UNC School of Media and Journalism

Sherry Chisenhall, managing editor, The Charlotte Observer

Copyright 2016 WFAE

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