Founded in 1919, the New York Daily News was one of the country’s most influential newspapers, with a massive circulation and notorious tabloid features. It attracted readers with sensational crime coverage, lurid photographs, and political gossip. By the 21st century it was losing ground to more nimble rivals, but it still maintained some presence in local reporting and sports.
Technology has radically changed the newspaper industry, throwing thousands out of work and closing newsrooms across America. It has also created a growing number of “news deserts,” leaving many communities with little or no access to local journalism. Andrew Conte has documented the evolution of the problem in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a town whose newspaper died in 2015. In this richly reported book, he offers clues about how it might be addressed.
In a time when newspapers are disappearing, a town’s residents must now become their own gatekeepers to information about their community, even though they might not have much experience in doing so. Those who do try to fill the gap struggle to separate fact from gossip and to make sense of their rapidly changing world. In their attempts to do so, the citizens of McKeesport reveal themselves in all their human complexity—to be pitiable, corrupt, and resolute.
Conte’s story is a cautionary tale for a country that depends on its journalists to hold power accountable and inform the public about issues that affect them, from local elections to national security. But his book also holds out hope that there may be ways to revive local journalism, and in the process create a better democracy.
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