By Sonny Albarado

Arkansas Advocate

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in recent years about the death of local newspapers, those bastions of democracy and chroniclers of community.

While the loss of any newspaper hurts the people they serve, residents of rural areas and small towns are hit especially hard when a newspaper shuts down. When a local newspaper closes, citizens lose impartial news and information about town and county government, school boards, local athletic teams, academic awards, county fairs and the mundane and special occurrences of a community’s life.

Despite the very real consequences of the shrinking traditional sources of community news, Americans remain hungry for reliable, accurate local news and information, a 2023 study conducted for America’s Newspapers shows.

The study by Coda Ventures found that 8 out of 10 Americans still get news and information from local print or digital sources every month. The survey included a nationally representative sample of 5,000 respondents.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said a local newspaper is important, and 43% said local newspapers or their websites are the most accurate source of news and information.

“Local news is critical to the well-being of a community,” the study’s authors wrote.

As a 50-year veteran of small and medium-sized newspapers and now editor of a statewide digital news site covering government and public policy, I know how true that statement is. Local newspapers give readers more than just the news; they help define and keep a community’s culture strong.

My 93-year-old mother has been a subscriber to our hometown newspaper since I was a child, and she’s continued subscribing through changes in ownership and the switch from steady delivery by carrier to the sometimes spotty delivery by the mailman. From obituaries to wedding announcements to front-page news, she relies on that newspaper to keep her connected to her community.

I learned about local politics and government by reading that newspaper. It’s a major source of my own passion for journalism and news.

The survey notes that when people say they “read the local newspaper,” they’re referring to any number of print and digital platforms where they can easily obtain news and information about their communities.

Not surprisingly, those ages 18-39 cite social media as their preferred means of accessing local newspaper content while those 40-74 prefer getting local news via a news website. Those 75 and older are almost evenly divided between preferring to read a home-delivered paper and reading a news website.

The study findings support the importance of local newspapers to citizens’ sense of community and engagement in public life, not just through news reporting but from public notices from local government and advertising from local businesses.

Local newspapers and their websites are relied upon more than any other source of information about public notices and government, the study says: 55% vs 24% for government websites.

As National Newspaper Week gets underway, we should take hope that our fellow Americans remain supportive of local newspapers even as their means of accessing news and information has changed. Local news is not dead.