The News About the News Business Is Getting Grimmer

Even by the standards of a news business whose fortunes have plummeted in the digital age, the last few weeks have been especially grim for American journalism.

Prominent newspapers like The Washington Post are shedding reporters and editors, and on Tuesday, The Los Angeles Times laid off more than 20 percent of its newsroom. Cable news ratings have fallen amid an uncompetitive presidential primary contest. Esteemed titles like Sports Illustrated, already a shadow of their former selves, have been gutted overnight.

As Americans prepare for an election year that will feature disinformation wars, A.I.-generated agitprop and a debate over the future of democracy, the mainstream news industry — once the de facto watchdog and facilitator of public discourse — is struggling to stay afloat.

The pain is particularly pronounced at the community level. An average of five local newspapers are closing every two weeks, according to Northwestern University’s Medill School, with more than half of all American counties now so-called news deserts with limited access to news about their hometowns. Of 1,100 public radio stations and affiliates, only about one in five is producing local journalism.

“At a time when America arguably needs more solid news coverage than ever, it is very disturbing to see economic forces arrange so powerfully against traditional news sources,” said Andrew Heyward, a former CBS News president who works with a group of M.I.T. researchers studying the future of news and information.

“It’s not just disturbing,” he added. “It’s dangerous.”

The decline has gone on for years, but a painful confluence of challenges has resulted in the current carnage.

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