College Paper Strikes Blow Against News Deserts

'Daily Iowan' buys two nearby weeklies to save them
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 3, 2024 6:20 PM CDT
College Paper Strikes Blow Against News Deserts
Editors talk in the Daily Iowan newsroom on Feb. 29 in Iowa City, Iowa.   (Emily Nyberg/The Daily Iowan via AP)

With hundreds of US newspaper closings leaving legions with little access to local news, a college newspaper in Iowa has stepped up to buy two struggling weekly publications. The move by the Daily Iowan, a nonprofit student paper for the University of Iowa, is believed to be a first, though other universities are stepping up to fill America's news void in different ways. Students will work alongside the papers' existing one- or two-person reporting staffs and put themselves to work covering the small communities of Mount Vernon, Lisbon, and Solon, Iowa, the AP reports. The weeklies' owner proposed the buyout to save the publications, which have a combined circulation of 1,900.

"It's a really great way to help the problem of news deserts in rural areas," said Sabine Martin, executive editor of the Daily Iowan, who will copy edit stories for one of the papers. She already oversees editorial operations for a school paper that had more than $2 million in net assets, per its most recent tax filings. Since 2005, the US has lost about 70% of newsroom jobs and one-third of all newspapers, said Zach Metzger, director of the State of Local News Project at Northwestern University. Richard Watts, director for the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont, said his group has identified 120 university-led student reporting programs that provide local news.

A handful of college publications had already been heavily invested in local news, including at the University of Missouri, where professional editors supervise journalism students who have produced a community newspaper for decades. "There's lots of examples of programs stepping in because the local media ecosystem doesn't exist in the way it once did," said Watts, per the AP. It's a microcosm of industry experimentation, said Barbara Allen, director of college programming at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. "I don't think anybody out there is bold enough yet to say, you know, this is the magic bullet," she said. "We now believe in a magic shotgun ... it's going to take hundreds of pellets."

(More newspaper industry stories.)

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