The printing press at The Progress-Index in Petersburg, Virginia. (Sarah Vogelsong)
Amid dire shortages of local news outlets nationwide, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, is backing a resolution recognizing the industry “serves an essential function in the democracy of the United States.”
“In Virginia and across the country, local news outlets are relied on to keep our citizens informed, combat disinformation, and serve as a crucial check on our government institutions,” said Warner. “It is important that we continue to honor the hard work that local journalists do for our Commonwealth and for our democracy in the face of continued budget cuts, newsroom closures, and staff reductions that have made their work more challenging.”
One recent Northwestern University study found that between 2005 and September 2022, a quarter of local newspapers nationwide closed. With an average of two or more papers shuttering every week, that number is expected to rise to 33% by 2025.
Some of these casualties include 42 Virginia newspapers that either closed or merged, leading to significant staff cuts at surviving papers.
A recent series by the Foothills Forum reported in the Rappahannock News found this number doesn’t account for several other weekly papers that closed or merged this year. Those include the Chesterfield Observer, Shenandoah Valley-Herald and Washington County News, all of which shut down, as well as the Mechanicsville Local and Virginian Review, which merged with sister papers.
Northwestern found half of Virginia’s counties are now covered by a single newspaper. Five counties in the state — Buckingham, Caroline, King and Queen, Surry and King George — are “news deserts,” meaning they have little to no access to local news
Buyouts from hedge and private equity funds, technology and population shifts and a lack of funding are some of the main reasons why the report says local news outlets in Virginia and nationwide are shutting down.
In one attempt at alleviating this decline in Virginia, Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, this winter introduced a bill that would have created a nonrefundable state income tax credit for local newspapers. It swiftly died in a House Finance subcommittee.
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