Ghosting the News | Margaret Sullivan

Summary of: Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy
By: Margaret Sullivan


In Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy, Margaret Sullivan addresses the decline of local news journalism and the effects on American democracy. As thousands of US newspapers close and staff numbers reduce, this crisis in journalism leads to increased government and corporate corruption. The book emphasizes the importance of local news sources for a well-informed public and democratic society, while outlining alternatives such as citizen-driven journalism efforts, nonprofit news organizations, and digital platforms. However, it highlights the challenges they face, such as funding and sustainability.

Crisis in American Journalism

Margaret Sullivan’s “Ghosting the News” discusses the decline of local newspapers in America and its impact on democracy. With nearly half of US newspapers cutting staff and thousands closing, Sullivan argues that the lack of local reporting has led to a rise in corruption. She warns of the profound crisis faced by democracy when regional papers disappear. However, she also provides hope, highlighting alternative sources of local news. Sullivan’s engaging writing style and convincing argument make “Ghosting the News” a must-read for those interested in the future of journalism and democracy.

The Financial Crisis and Local News Disappearance

The newspaper industry’s decline began with the 2008 financial crisis, leading to a lack of funding for traditional local newspapers. More than 2,000 US newspapers have gone out of business since then, with 45% of American newsrooms cutting their staff between 2008 and 2017. As a result, many regions of the US have lost access to accurate local news sources, creating a real-news problem that affects communities across the country. While most Americans believe local news is in good economic shape, the industry’s struggles continue to threaten the availability of trustworthy local reporting.

The Demise of Newspapers

The Buffalo News and other newspaper monopolies made big profits until 2008 when the industry began experiencing terrible years in a row. The emergence of Craig Newmark’s Craigslist and the domination of Google and Facebook in digital advertising caused the devastating decline of newspaper classifieds. Google and Facebook now command over half of all digital advertising in the US.

Innovative Solutions for Local News Coverage

With the decline of local news outlets, citizen journalists in East Lansing, Michigan created East Lansing Info (ELI), a website that covers local issues such as the city’s pension debt. ELI is now run by local journalists on a small budget. Similarly, Community Impact of Pflugerville, Texas prints and mails 34 newspapers for free to residents, funded by highly targeted advertising. These innovative solutions highlight the challenges faced by digital news outlets and offer potential paths forward for addressing local news coverage.

The Impact of Shrinking Newspapers

With falling newspaper circulation in Italy by over 50%, Brazil having a third of its population living in a news desert, and significant staff reductions for Australia’s two major “legacy newspapers,” the effect on society is concerning. As local newspapers disappear or get downsized, there is a rise in public corruption, division among citizens and a lack of public engagement. It is crucial to acknowledge the vital role of the local press in ensuring the health of democracy and communities.

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