Citizen One is a new initiative designed to accomplish three things – provide a source for local community news, educate students and citizens about media literacy, and help local businesses connect with their customers. Our Pilot Project in Cloverdale, Indiana is a first step in establishing a nation-wide network of localized, community Citizen One bureaus.

Giants and Ghosts in the Desert: What has happened to local news?

Citizen One is attempting to solve a problem that currently ranks at Number Five on the Clear and Present Dangers List according to the World Economic Forum – digital inequity. This includes a broad range of interconnected problems like lack of access to broadband, media and information literacy, misinformation, information warfare, the decline of trust in institutions, particularly in media, as well as the decline of local journalism, media ownership convergence, and many other issues. There are three key areas of focus for us within this broader digital inequity sphere, but today we want to share some information on local community news, and how it got to the state it is in today.

The emergence of News Deserts in the rural United States

Courtesy UNC Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media

Local community news has been devastated by recent shifts in technology, consumer behavior and the economy – particularly in rural areas. The U.S. has lost more than 2,100 newspapers from 2004-2020. 90 of those went out of business just in 2020 alone. More than 200 counties in the United States are now without a local news source, and more than 1,500 have only one newspaper, usually a weekly.

 

Newspaper Ownership: The Land of the Giants

Courtesy UNC Center for Innovation & Sustainability in Local Media.

A majority of these weeklies are most likely owned by one of a handful of large media conglomerates like GateHouse Media (formerly Gannett, owner of USA Today) who owns 613 papers, Tribune (207), CNHI (112), and other conglomerates like Adams, Ogden and Lee/BH. As these companies have acquired local newspapers, newsroom employment dropped 57% from 2004-2020, eliminating more than 36,000 journalism jobs.

The Haunting of Rural America: The Ghost Papers

The roughly 6,700 local newspapers that remain in business are shells of their former selves, known as “Ghost Papers”. These papers are staffed minimally, if at all, and feature primarily network, USA Today, and AP content, with the only local reporting done by a small handful of under-paid journalists, or from press releases or stories written and submitted directly by community members. Cloverdale, Indiana – the home of our Citizen One Pilot Program – is a prime example of a ghost paper. The local newspaper recently acquired by Gatehouse has been primarily republishing USA Today stories for months, and just recently announced it would be closing its doors after its final October 2021 issue. Meanwhile, the only other newspaper in the county has recently gone from producing a daily edition to twice a week and lists a total of two editors and five reporters on its website, several of which are contract or part-time. With the only other viable source of news being social media – where there are no fact checks, oversights, editors, or reporting standards – this community and communities like it are in dire need of a source of truth for their communities.

Citizen One: A Journalism Revolution

We’re here to fix local journalism. We believe all news is local. We believe in the power of the Fourth Estate. We believe in the empowerment of our communities and the potential of our students, civil servants, and ourselves. Most importantly, we believe there is an opportunity and a path forward to a new model of journalism that decouples reporting from the profit motive and allows for a resurgence in the trust of the media as an institution. We know we can bring people together and be a self-sustainable long-term option for local news reporting, and someday regional, state and national news. The revolution won’t be televised quite yet, but it will definitely be on your mobile device.

We are glad you’re here, and our hope is this service fills the void left by the thousands of local newspapers that have ceased operations. We hope it helps our students and citizens better interpret media and information. We hope it gives small local businesses a way to grow. Most of all, we hope this brings us all together around a common bond – the community we all live in.

 

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Sources:

The News Landscape in 2020: Transformed and Diminished |. (2020, June 21). The Expanding News Desert. https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/news-deserts-and-ghost-newspapers-will-local-news-survive/the-news-landscape-in-2020-transformed-and-diminished/

The Global Risks Report 2021. (2021). World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021

Newspapers Fact Sheet. (2021, June 29). Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project; Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/fact-sheet/newspapers/

The New Media Giants –. (2020, June 22). The Expanding News Desert. https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/reports/news-deserts-and-ghost-newspapers-will-local-news-survive/the-news-landscape-in-2020-transformed-and-diminished/the-new-media-giants/