“I used to be a BOND BREAD salesman; I felt alive and knew about everything going on. Now I am retired and can’t even find out what’s going on in my own neighborhood.” He looked embarrassed as he confessed this to the other 11 elders in our focus group.
It’s the local newspapers that connect neighborhoods. Grocery ads to high school sports, school board meetings to mayoral races aren’t covered when the paper stops. “We are a community that doesn’t even know itself,” a reader told The New York Times.
Many of the communities traditionally underserved by legacy local media—communities of color, low-income communities, and communities in rural areas—are those most affected by its decline, says Penn America in a comprehensive report . “Of all media types, local newspapers have historically been—and remain—the primary source of accountability journalism.” When communities “lose transparency and accountability, taxes go up and voter participation goes down,” says Penny Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, citing that in the 15 years leading up to 2020, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities – inner-city neighborhoods, suburban towns and rural villages – living in vast news deserts.
The Good News
Many local and hyper local papers have grown and become more useful and dynamic in their online editions. Not surprisingly, older readers favor print by a wide margin (pun intended). And that’s the bad news, too. because as these critical resources eliminate print editions, most older people remain reluctant or unknowing about using a computer-based device to access their local newspaper. Adults age 65 and older who pay for news are five times more likely to buy print than digital said the American Press Institute in 2017. But what about 2020- 2021 – the pandemic years? With the necessity and urgency to learn – as even those papers that were delivered to the apartment door are no longer there, and vulnerable adults venture out and down to the lobby less, perhaps that hassle of technology is actually worth it! By some accounts, digital newspaper reading has risen 38% since 2019. Many of those new readers were of the age to need glasses.
We’ve seen a tenfold uptake in our digital literacy offerings for seniors these past 18 months. And inspired by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism which works to save local news, we have created www.EasyNewsHelp.org to help our oldest and otherwise often wisest generations tap into digital news. Here’s hoping the next edition is for everyone.
Note the iPad on the table !