Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at The Washington Post, joined Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley to discuss her new book, “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy,” during a livestreamed Northwest Passages Book Club forum.
“Ghosting the News” explores what happens to democracy in the U.S. when local journalism dies.
Sullivan gives the example of the Vindicator, the local, family-owned paper in Youngstown, Ohio. When she heard the paper was closing, she “figured it would be a good idea to go to Youngstown.”
“Out of the blue, this paper that had existed for 150 years was going to close its doors the following month. “It wasn’t going to go partly, cut back to delivering a couple of times a week or scale back. No, it was going to go from a full-scale seven-day-a-week delivery to nothingness.
“The community had just found out that in the next couple of weeks they were going to lose their paper. People were in tears. People that had delivered the paper, or had their parents obituaries in the paper, or their son’s touchdown. They called it the ‘Vindy.’ It was a big part of the community.”
However, after talking to an editor at the paper, she recalls him as saying:
“It was very poignant to hear people so sad that we’re going to close, but I wonder if we had asked for a show of hands, how many of you actually subscribe to the paper?”
“People might’ve had a romantic idea that they liked the paper, and maybe they benefited from it, but they weren’t necessarily supporting it. This is one of the big takeaways for me. You don’t know what you’ve got till you lose it. Think about what our cities, our towns would be like if those newspapers simply weren’t around anymore. Not shrunken, not part-time, but gone. That’s happening all over the country.”
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