September 16, 2019: State Bar Task Force Looks at Rise of News Deserts in Effort to Save Local Journalism

Professor Penny Abernathy, a noted expert on the national local news crisis, was the featured presenter at a meeting of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) Task Force on Free Expression in the Digital Age held in New York City today.  

Abernathy, a former executive at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, is currently the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina. She spoke about the historical relevance of local newspapers, which are disappearing at an alarming rate. 

Abernathy also discussed her research on private equity firms buying news organizations and the rise of so-called “news deserts” that are formed when communities have limited access to credible and comprehensive information that feed democracy at the grassroots level. 

“We’re looking at a potential collapse of the local news ecosystem, which has huge implications for our democracy,” Abernathy said. “The data has shown repeatedly that especially in small and mid-size communities, local newspapers tend to be prime, if not (the) sole source, of news and information.”   

Abernathy’s research has found that nearly 200 U.S. counties have no newspaper at all, and upwards of 1,500 have only one. 

Task Force Co-Chair David E. McCraw, deputy general counsel of the New York Times, called Abernathy “one of the nation’s foremost experts on the demise of local journalism,” and said her testimony and research will be an “invaluable asset” as members consider recommendations for addressing this crisis. 

To view over 260 interactive maps to see if you live in a “news desert,” and to see where newspapers have disappeared and what efforts have been made to fill the void, click here.

The panel meeting was livestreamed on social media and other web platforms, continuing NYSBA’s commitment to enabling public participation in its efforts to address this and other complex issues facing the state. Click here to watch the panel meeting in full. 

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

Contact: Brendan Kennedy
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