Despite changing landscape, Evanston newspapers remain a stronghold in community


A newspaper vending machine under an “L” bridge in downtown Evanston. Local Newspaper struggle to stay afloat, but Evanston newspapers remain strong.

Andrew Myers, Reporter

For Vikki Proctor, a regular reader of the Evanston RoundTable and The Daily Northwestern, local newspapers are the glue that pulls a community together.

“It’s how we show up at city hall for the issues that concern us,” Proctor said. “To not have a newspaper is an enormous mistake.”

In recent years, local newspapers have been struggling to remain afloat. This has led to the creation of “news deserts” –– towns that lack any form of local news. In 2018, 1,449 American counties had only one newspaper, mostly weekly publications, and 171. counties had no local newspaper, according to a recent study from the University of North Carolina’s Center for Innovation.

In Evanston, however, this is not the case. Unlike other city and towns, Evanston has three news publications: the Evanston RoundTable, Evanston Now, and The Daily.

Readership is one of the largest contributing factors in the decline of local newspapers. According to the Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans rely on local news, and weekday print circulation has decreased by 11 percent from 2017 to 2018. While some local Evanston residents turn to local Evanston newspapers for their news, others rely on national news.

Evanston resident Gwynn Blaser said she does not engage with local newspapers “a great deal,” except for elections. She said she gets most of her news online and doesn’t subscribe to any newspapers.

“I usually do a search on a subject,” she said. “Whatever hits come up on that subject, that’s what I look at, not a specific newspaper.”

Blaser is not the only one. In 2016, 59 percent of Americans prefered reading the news online, according to the Pew Research Center.

Tim Franklin, senior associate dean of Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, has worked for several local newspapers, including The Indianapolis Star and The Orlando Sentinel. He said local newspapers inform citizens about matters of great public importance and create a sense of shared experience.

“It’s creating an experience for people who live in a community so they feel like the local news organization cares about the community,” Franklin said. “They have the community’s interest at heart, and that there’s a sense of belonging.”

For Franklin, the digital age has delivered the most significant shock to the local newspaper business. With more and more people turning to the internet to get their news, local newspapers can no longer rely on the steady revenue from physical print editions, he said.

While digital media has allowed newspapers to reach a greater audience, financially it has had a devastating impact on print-based outlets, Franklin said. According to the Pew Research Center, digital advertising is making up an ever growing percentage of the advertising revenue for newspaper companies.

For this reason, Franklin said Northwestern created the local news initiative: a team of experts assembled to reinvent the relationship with news organizations and audience. They partnered with the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Indianapolis Star to address the challenges faced by local news organizations.

Despite the changing media landscape, Franklin said journalism is still important to democracy.

“It’s critical to a self-governed democracy where citizens need access to reliable and accurate news information to live their lives,” Franklin said.

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