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.
“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
Margaret Sullivanis 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