“Your Local Newspaper Might Not Have a Single Reporter; Rise of ‘ghost newsrooms’ spawns effort by local news startups to fill the void”


The Gleaner, the local newspaper in Henderson, Ky., has sections focused on features, sports, news and opinion.

What it doesn’t have: a single reporter on staff.

The publication is one of the “ghost newsrooms” that increasingly dot the American media landscape—newspapers that have little to no on-the-ground presence in the localities whose name they bear. It is a sobering development in an industry that has been brought to its knees by the rise of digital media and large technology companies.

The Gleaner newsroom once bustled with a staff of around 20. Now, it doesn’t have an office—it was closed a few years ago—and most of its content comes from other publications owned by its parent company: Gannett, home of USA Today and over 200 local news outlets including the Courier & Press of nearby Evansville, Ind.

What coverage there is of Henderson, a northwestern Kentucky city of about 30,000, is left to a few freelancers—including a husband-and-wife team that averages a few stories a month for the Gleaner, which publishes five days a week.

Dozens of newspapers across the country don’t have a single full-time reporter dedicated to that publication, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis and industry observers.

Many newspapers “are so depleted in staff, or maybe have no staff, that they’re not able to provide the sort of communication the residents in that community need to make wise decisions,” said Penelope Abernathy, a visiting professor at Northwestern University and lead author of a recent report on the state of local news in the U.S. 

In some places—including Henderson—startups have sprouted to cover the issues that no longer appear in the local paper’s pages, but not to a degree large enough to offset the decline of established news publications, the study said. 

The lack of local-news coverage could make it more difficult to detect corruption, journalists and industry observers say. They cite the importance of covering hot-button topics, especially as localities confront a number of societal issues, including school curricula and policing.

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