Ghosting the News

Ghosting the News
Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy

How the current epidemic of news deserts and ghost papers threatens democracy

Ghosting the News tells the most troubling media story of our time: How democracy suffers when local news dies. From 2004 to 2015, 1,800 print newspaper outlets closed in the U.S. One in five news organizations in Canada have closed since 2008. One in three Brazilians live in news deserts. The absence of accountability journalism has created an atmosphere in which indicted politicians were elected, school superintendents were mismanaging districts, and police chiefs were getting mysterious payouts. This is not the much discussed fake-news problem—it’s the separate problem of a critical shortage of real news.

America’s premier media critic, Margaret Sullivan, charts the contours of the damage, and surveys a range of new efforts to keep local news alive—from non-profit digital sites to an effort modeled on the Peace Corps. No nostalgic paean to the roar of rumbling presses, Ghosting the News instead sounds a loud alarm, alerting citizens to a growing crisis in local news that has already done serious damage.

Read Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader

Ghosting the News
  • ISBN: 9781733623780
  • Price: $15.99
  • E-book ISBN: 9781733623797
  • On Sale: July 14, 2020
  • Pages: 106


Named one of 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2020 by the Washington Post
An NPR Best Book of 2020

“An excellent introduction to the essential problem of our republic. With a wake-up call like this one, we still have a chance.” —Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny

Ghosting the News is a brisk and pointed tribute to painstaking, ordinary and valuable work.” —Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

“Ultimately, Sullivan’s pessimism about local journalism is as much a verdict on our culture as anything — and can you blame her? Journalists have been attacked as ‘enemies of the people,’  body-slammed, tear-gassed and worse. Yet most Americans still say they trust local news. If we are going to rebuild trust in journalism, it will have to happen from the ground up, as part of a broader renewal of our civic institutions. There is a lot to fix in the country, and local news is no small part of it.” —Sewell Chan, Los Angeles Times

“Margaret Sullivan has written one of the most timely books I've ever seen, about the biggest threat to democracy that no one is talking about. It’s that rare book about journalism that regular folks need to read.... Short yet vital.” —Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer

“An ink-bound alarm bell. The threat Americans face, [Sullivan] argues, is not just the news that lies. It is also the news that will never exist in the first place.” —Megan Garber, The Atlantic

“Sullivan aims to amplify the long-running alarm that local news media―entities core to local and national democracy―are in more trouble than ever.” Fortune

“Lays out the state of journalism in America, and the desperate need for its revival.” Guardian

“Insightful, sobering analysis of the modern news landscape.” —Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Smart, tight and necessary.... Sullivan’s novella-length book is a siren in the night.” —Rick Holmes, CommonWealth Magazine

“A timely antidote for those outside the industry looking in.” —Rick Edmonds, Poynter

“Margaret Sullivan’s book about what happens to local democracy when local newsrooms shrivel couldn’t be publishing at a better time.” Seattle Times

“A no-nonsense retort to the notion that we live in a time of abundant information.” Kirkus Reviews

“Quality journalism takes time and investment to produce, and it deserves our time and investment to preserve and appreciate. Our very democracy depends on it.” —Dylan Schleicher, Porchlight Books


What Happens to Democracy When Local Journalism Dries Up? — Washington Post Magazine

Katie’s cub reporting days, the state of local news and the journalists reinvigorating the industry — Next Question with Katie Couric

The Decline of Local News — Fresh Air

Local News and Democracy — The Brian Lehrer Show

Goodbye to the Hometown Paper — Washington Post Magazine

The Constitution Doesn’t Work Without Local News — The Atlantic

Six partial solutions to local news crisis — CNN’s Reliable Sources

Ghosting the News — Slate Money podcast

🎧 Listen to our Underreported with Nicholas Lemann podcast episodes with Margaret Sullivan   part 1 / part 2

About the author

Margaret Sullivan
© Michael Benabib

Margaret Sullivan is the media columnist of the Washington Post, the former public editor of the New York Times, and the former editor of the Buffalo News, where she started her career as a summer intern. She was twice elected a director of the National Society of News Editors and is a former member of the Pulitzer Prize board.  @sulliview