Jennifer Nehrer, 18, wants to read her neighborhood news. But due to the Local News Crisis — the near-disappearance of the local press — that’s no longer possible.
Nehrer, a senior at School without Walls, is focusing her senior project around the Local News Crisis and is hoping to spread the word through her Instagram @savelocalnews.
Can you explain the senior project?
Seniors take a year-long course and they produce both a research paper and a product and eventually they present both to a panel of judges. It’s all covering one issue or one phenomenon. The research paper is meant to be what I learned and the product works toward a solution.
Why did you decide to focus on local news?
I’ve known that I’ve wanted to be a journalist for as long as I can remember. About a year ago, I got an internship with the News Media Alliance and I noticed they were doing a lot of advocacy about the Local News Crisis. Before that, all I knew is that the Northwest Current, my local newspaper, had closed. I thought it was an isolated thing, but in fact it’s happening to large swaths of the country. I found that it’s a huge problem across the United States and it’s very connected to disinformation. As soon as they started preparing us for senior projects, I knew that’s what I wanted to focus on.
What exactly is the Local News Crisis?
It is the crisis surrounding the demise of local news in the United States and more specifically the fact that local media is having a hard time staying afloat in socioeconomic conditions in the United States. Not everyone is subscribing to their local print newspaper and it’s been going on for a long while now, but recent updates in technology and the pandemic have accelerated it. Over one in five newspapers have closed in the last 15 to 20 years. About half of all counties in the United States have only one weekly newspaper, and over 200 counties have no local newspaper whatsoever. The local news crisis is also a major cause of the disinformation crisis.
Why should people care about this issue?
It has a lot of consequences that you wouldn’t immediately think about. It contributes to a number of other things that can be incredibly damaging to society as a whole. More minorly, when you lose your local newspaper, you lose a source and influence of community engagement. This could mean the farmers market gets less popularity and a local election may not be popularized.
It’s been found that counties without local newspapers vote more along party lines because as you lose your local newspaper, your next source of news is going to be social media or larger national news sources. These vessels can be great ways of spreading news to large groups of people, but have downsides. The fact that people no longer have a local, nonpartisan usually, news source means that they’re going to go to the much more polarizing national sources or social media where you’re only going to hear from people that think like you.
What are your goals in this project?
The ultimate goal is to pass the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which provides tax breaks to local news. Also just getting people more aware of the Local News Crisis through the Instagram [account]. There are still great local news outlets out there that could use subscribers. Lastly, given my degree of interest in journalism, I definitely want to carry on this advocacy for local news into my college career and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself working at a local news outlet in a couple of years.
Know someone age 40 or younger who has something important to say? Nominate them for a You Should Know interview. Email WJW Editor David Holzel at