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Ohio lost dozens of local newspapers last year. What comes next?

A printer prints a sheet of newspaper so quickly that the paper is blurry.
Bank Phrom
Since 2005, the U.S. has lost about a third of its newspapers. Ohio has lost an even greater share.

Ohio lost 30 newspapers between 2022 and 2023.

Newspaper owner Gannett closed 16 community papers in the Columbus area alone, making the city one with among the highest loss of papers per capita in the country, according to the Medill School of Journalism’s 2023 State of Local News report.

This loss is part of an ongoing trend — one that’s been hitting the entire country for decades.

Since 2005, the nation has lost about a third of its newspapers. Ohio has lost half.

“What we’re seeing is the collapse of local news in many parts of the country,” said Tim Franklin, the senior associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism and the director of the school’s Local News Initiative. “Ohio, unfortunately, is faring worse than most.”

What’s causing the decline?

Multiple factors are contributing to the steep decline.

“Obviously, technology and the move of readers and audiences from print to digital is playing a big role,” Franklin said.

With that transition comes the loss of advertising revenue. For generations, that revenue made up the financial backbone of local newspapers, Franklin said, but now Google, Meta and Amazon eat up a much larger share of it.

“There’s just not much left for local news to sponge up,” he said.

“Good community newspapers are the glue that holds together communities. When you lose that connectedness, I think there are all sorts of social implications to that.”
Tim Franklin, Medill School of Journalism

At the same time, audiences have shifted their focus to national media.

“We've seen a lot of folks go to websites and to cable channels that reinforce their own belief sets,” Franklin said. “So the news that they’re getting is more national and through a certain filter.”

That trend reversed slightly during the COVID pandemic, Franklin said, as more people turned to local outlets for information about school closures and health updates.

But since then, the pace of newspaper closures has picked up.

Now, Ohio has 160 local newspapers, down from about 300 just two decades ago.

And the state has nearly half the number of newspaper journalists it once did, with the biggest loss coming to rural and suburban communities.

“What keeps me up at night is, as local news is making the shift from advertising revenue to reader revenue, in other words, digital subscriptions and memberships to support local news, the question is, is there enough scale in rural areas to support journalists covering that community?” Franklin said. “And so that's something that worries me a lot.”

The consequences of a shrinking local news landscape

That’s because the loss of local news brings consequences, Franklin said, like a decline in civic participation.

In news deserts or places with limited access to local information, studies show fewer people run for local office and fewer people vote in local elections. In turn, government spending and corruption both rise.

“There are no traffic cops, if you will, that are watching local government and what's happening,” Franklin said.

But he believes the loss of local news cuts deeper than politics.

“Good community newspapers are the glue that kind of holds together communities,” he said. “They inform people about local deaths, about what's happening at the local school, about what's happening with businesses in the community and what's happening with their neighbors down the street. When you lose that connectedness, I think there are all sorts of social implications to that.”

What’s next for local news in Ohio?

But Franklin still has some hope for the future of local news.

More digital and nonprofit newsrooms are sprouting up, he said, like the Richland Source. The 10-year-old digital startup focuses on solutions journalism and has a diversified stream of income.

“In many ways, Richland is a model for what can happen in rural communities going forward,” Franklin said.

Public radio has a role to play too, he said. For instance, local stations are merging with legacy papers, like WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times.

And there are even more innovative ideas out there, Franklin said. Some communities are forming local news co-ops, where community members buy memberships and form boards to oversee local news. Others are trying the ‘Green Bay Packers’ modeland selling shares to community members.

“Then they would either reap dividends from those shares or at least would have a say in what's happening in local news,” Franklin said. “So there's a lot of experimentation happening right now.”

There’s just one problem.

“That growth is not happening fast enough to keep pace with the loss of legacy local news organizations.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.