What’s Lost When A Paper Dies

Last month in June, EO Media Group, a regional newspaper publishing company in Oregon and southern Washington, announced that it would be making five of its print papers online only: The La Grande Observer, the Baker City Herald, Blue Mountain Eagle, Hermiston Herald and Wallowa County Chieftain were all folded into the Eastern Oregonian umbrella. 

According to EO Media, 28 journalists were laid off from their jobs.

That one decision could create a news desert in the northeastern part of Oregon. A news desert is a community that is no longer covered by a daily or weekly publication. 

The Agora Journalism Center says all U.S. citizens need access to factual coverage of eight main categories — emergencies and risks, health and welfare, education, transportation, economic opportunities, the environment, civic information and political information.

More than a third of Oregon’s locally owned small town newspapers have closed since 2004, and more than 68 percent of Oregon’s incorporated cities lack a local news source — according to FORJournalism, a nonprofit focused on connecting struggling newsrooms with training resources and tools. FORJournalism is sponsored by EO Media Group.

When publications close and watchdogs go away, according to a study published in the Journal of Financial Economics, local government costs are substantially increased for taxpayers — increasing borrowing costs for bonds issued by local governments by an additional $650,000 on average and raising government deficits.

When papers are shuttered, politics become more polarized and voting levels decline — especially for items further down the ballot according to the Agora Journalism Center.

A study done by the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism found that “over the past 15 years the United States has lost 2,100 newspapers, leaving at least 1,800 communities that had a local news outlet in 2004 without any at the beginning of 2020.”

Gannett, the largest media holding company in the nation, owns and operates 217 daily newspapers and 175 weekly newspapers in the USA Today network, including The Register-Guard and Salem Statesman Journal.

According to NewsGuild-CWA, a labor union for newspaper journalists, Gannett’s workforce shrunk by 47 percent between 2020 and 2023, with most of the layoffs in the newsroom. 

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