Why America’s Rural Newspapers Still Matter
by Roz Brown
ESPAÑOLA, N.M. – Sixty-three million or 16 percent of U.S. residents live in rural America and, while they increasingly embrace digital technology, they still rely on local newspapers to provide them with news the Internet can’t.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism, says rural residents are 10 percent less likely to have broadband and smartphones than city-dwellers. And while many don’t believe all the information they read on the Internet, Cross says trust in the local newspaper remains high.
“I think there’s always going to be a demand for news of your locality,” he says. “I think that journalism is essential for democracy, and rural communities, they deserve journalism – good journalism – too, and that people are always going to want the news of their locality.”
Cross says rural residents no longer expect to get national and international news from their local paper but want school, police and civic information that other news sources don’t provide.
Between 2007 and 2015, more than 100 daily newspapers closed. Many blamed free classified ads on the Internet, smartphones and younger generations who now get their news online.
Bob Trapp owns and publishes the Rio Grande Sun in Rio Ariba County. He says his circulation did take a hit when the Internet debuted, but he’s convinced people of all ages in rural communities want to know who was born, who died, and who’s getting married.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, the young people won’t read the paper, they won’t buy the paper,'” he says. “Young people grow up, they get married, they have kids, they become involved in their community, they decide they want to know what’s going on in their community and they buy the paper. So, I’m not concerned about young people and their electronic devices.”
He says when rural Americans access local information, they’re also more likely to engage civically, which includes voting.
Trapp believes in the age of digital distraction, rural newspapers need to provide relevance and value so “information deserts” don’t take hold.
“You know, you’re never going to do an excellent job at everything, but you can do a good job at covering community events and school things,” he explains. “But you’ve also got to show people where their tax dollars are being spent because that’s what makes a good newspaper.”
There are 7,000 weekly newspapers and 1,200 daily newspapers across the country.