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New study: Virginia has a growing number of news deserts

Weekly newspapers are often a key way for a community to follow high school sports or the local obituaries.

Virginia currently has seven news deserts.

"There's no newspaper. There's no digital site. There's no public radio. And there's no ethnic media," says Tim Franklin, dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He says the news blackout is only growing. A new report from the State of Local News Project shows that in the last 20 years, one third of America's newspapers have stopped the presses.

"The business model for local news has collapsed. It's imploded."

That means no high school sports scores, no local obituaries and no detail about land use decisions or campaign finance disclosures. The loss of weekly newspapers is devastating. But even with that one-third decline in the last two decades, newspapers still, today, outnumber digital only news sites by 11 to one.

"Even with the decline, local newspapers are still the most prevalent way that people get local news and information," says Franklin. "But that's why this trend is so concerning."

One potential solution, he says, is philanthropy. The MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation are pumping half a billion dollars into local news over the next five years — time to give newsrooms that cover state and local news time to figure out a new business model.

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.