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Study Shows Expanding News Deserts in Virginia

The last decade has seen a dramatic reduction in local newspapers across Virginia, a decline that’ is documented in a new report outlining news deserts.

Cumberland County has about 20,000 people governed by a Board of Supervisors, a School Board and a commonwealth’s attorney. But no local newspaper. It’s one of seven news deserts in Virginia, according to a new report from the University of North Carolina.

“I think the surprising thing to me is how dramatic the loss has been in terms of weeklies,” says Penelope Muse Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism who directed the study.  It shows that Virginia has lost 43 weekly newspapers since 2004.

Click here to read the full report

“We’ve got to find something in whatever form it’s delivered in, whether it’s digitally or in print, that continues that community-building function," Abernathy says, "because that’s what gives us both social cohesion and encourages political cohesion and a whole range of things.”

Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, predicts this situation is going to get worse before it gets better. “The newspapers that exist now are going to shrink the geographic footprint of what they cover because they don’t have the staff resources and frankly it doesn’t pay to deliver the paper two counties over in most cases.”

The study points out that online news outlets and nonprofit organizations are trying to fill the void, but they are subject to the same economic forces that are killing local newspapers across the country.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.