Growing up in small-town Mississippi, our local newspaper was a key source of all kinds of information: community eventslocal students’ opinions on the latest social media tool, or how, when I was 14, I was second in line to buy the latest Harry Potter book.

While all of those stories were important, local newspapers play a particularly critical role in covering education. That’s why I was particularly troubled to read that Gannett – the publisher of more than 200 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community papers – announced on May 1 that it would pause plans to restaff its smaller papers, a move that signifies a broader trend affecting local journalism across the United States.

  • According to researchers at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, an average of 2.5 local newspapers closed per week in 2023, contributing to a growing number of U.S. counties – more than half – facing limited access to local news.

Education reporters are a vital bridge between the school system and the public: they attend meetings, examine decisions, and report on issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. They cover everything from budget allocations and school board elections to curriculum changes and staffing decisions. Nearly every time I talk to an education beat reporter at a local outlet, I’m impressed with the encyclopedia-like knowledge they have of their district and what happened at every board meeting during their time covering that district.

  • Five to 10 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see multiple local reporters in a school board meeting. Today, one reporter might be expected to cover a dozen or more school districts – making attendance at every school board meeting nearly impossible.
  • Since the pandemic, demand for local education news – especially among parents – has really increased. Research conducted by Calvin University’s Center for Social Research in 2020 and 2021 shows a significant increase in parents’ interest in news about schools, particularly among parents of color.

So what does this diminishing number of local newspapers mean for education coverage?

  • Nonprofit news organizations – both education trades like Chalkbeat and Hechinger Report and local outlets like Baltimore Banner and Texas Tribune – will play an important role in filling the gaps left by staff cuts at legacy newspapers.
  • Nontraditional news sources will play an increasingly important role. This week, The Grade profiled how in Boston and Seattle, podcasts have become vital in covering local education issues comprehensively and making the issues accessible to the general public.

The shift in how we get our local news, especially about education, isn’t just a minor change – it’s a major shift that needs our attention. But it’s clear that while the landscape of local journalism is changing, the need for reliable education coverage remains as critical as ever.

What can you do? Consider subscribing to your local and/or hometown newspapers (if you still have one) and supporting organizations such as the Education Writers Association, which has provided professional development and training for education writers across the country for more than 75 years.

Further Reading