Civic Engagement: How The Decline of Local News Hurts Democracy

Monday, January 6, 2020
PBs NewsHour extra discusses the decline of civic engagement with the disappearance of local news

Viktorya Vilk, who co-authored the report on news deserts, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how the decline of local news is impacting civic engagement.

Civic Engagement and Democracy Decline with Growth of "News Deserts"

Over the last 15 years, local newspapers across the U.S. have lost more than $35 billion in advertising revenue and half of their staffs, while at least 2,000 news outlets have shuttered during that time, according to a new study by the non-profit PEN America. Viktorya Vilk, who co-authored the report, discusses how the decline of local news is impacting civic engagement. Watch the video below and answer the questions. You can turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here.



Civic Engagement and Local News: Discussion Questions

  1. Focus question: How is the decline of local news impacting civic engagement?
  2. What were some of the findings of the Pen America study?
  3. Does your town or community have a local newspaper or online news site? If you’re not sure, how could you find out?
  4. What is a news desert? What are the effects of the growth of news deserts on a democratic society?
  5. What types of stories do local news reporters cover?
  6. Why do you think the study found that social media was not a good replacement for local news coverage?
  7. Why are underserved communities the most severely affected by the lack of local news organizations?
  8. Why do you think studies have shown an increase in corruption if local news outlets do not exist to cover school board meetings, city council meetings, public utility meetings and other local issues?
  9. Media literacy: Ask your family where they get their local news. Do they subscribe to a local newspaper? If not, why not? If your community or region does not have a local news source, how can citizens know about important issues? What are some solutions to this problem?


Graph displaying how news deserts can affect civic engagement


Civic Engagement and Local News: Extension Activity

The closing of local newsrooms can create “news deserts,” areas with limited access to news outlets. If time allows, watch these two news stories. The first video focuses on recent studies showing how democracy is affected when local newspapers close and the second centers on the effects of mass news layoffs. Why are low-income areas affected the most?




This article was originally published by PBS NewsHour Extra and can be found here.