News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers

Will Local News Survive?

By Penelope Muse Abernathy

News Deserts and Ghost Newspapers

128 pp., 8.5 x 11

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6130-8
    Published: September 2020

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Distributed for the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This report is the fourth on the state of local news produced by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It measures what has been lost, while also assessing what must be done if we are to nurture and revive a vibrant news landscape in the third decade of the 21st century.

The first section of this report, “The News Landscape in 2020: Transformed and Diminished,” examines the loss of local news, from the end of 2004--when newspaper advertising, circulation and employment were at, or near, peak levels--to the end of 2019, providing a time-lapsed snapshot of the news landscape before the coronavirus seized control of the economy. It assesses not only the current state of local newspapers, but also that of local digital sites, ethnic news organizations and public broadcasting outlets. The second section, “The News Landscape of the Future: Transformed … and Renewed?” establishes the need for a reimagining of journalistic, business, technological and policy solutions.

Extensive research has established that the loss of local news has significant political, social and economic implications for our democracy and our society. Yet, according to the Pew Research Center, almost three-quarters of the general public remains unaware of the dire economic situation confronting local news organizations. By documenting the transformation of the local news landscape over the past 15 years, and exploring the challenges and potential solutions, we hope this report will raise awareness of the role that all of us can play in supporting the revival of local news.

Accompanying this report, is an updated website,, with more than 350 interactive maps--allows readers to drill down to the county level to understand the state of local media in communities throughout the United States. You will find information on regional and community newspapers--as well as public broadcasting outlets, ethnic media and digital sites.

About the Author

Penelope (Penny) Muse Abernathy is the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina and a director of the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. A journalism professional with more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and senior media business executive, her research focuses on the implications of the digital revolution for news organizations, information needs of communities and the emergence of news deserts in the United States. She is the author of Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability, published in 2014, as well as three follow-up reports expanding on her research.
For more information about Penelope Muse Abernathy, visit the Author Page.