Last week, we hosted a webinar highlighting promising solutions to the problem of news deserts. Nearly every day, we’re reminded that local news in the United States is dwindling. Since 2004, about 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States—approximately 1,800—have gone out of business or merged. Hundreds more have drastically cut back local coverage. All told, about 1,300 U.S. communities have totally lost local news coverage as a result.

Newspapers are a keystone species of any local news ecosystem, and funders can play a key role in keeping news alive in the nation’s news deserts.

Watch the webinar below and use the time stamps to follow along in the recording:

The webinar featured:

  • Fiona Morgan (2:22), MIF’s journalism funders network coordinator, who moderated the discussion. Morgan, who brings her own experience and expertise on the subject, recently co-wrote a paper with Stanford University Professor James Hamilton titled Poor Information: How Economics Affects the Information Lives of Low-Income Individuals.
  • Penelope Muse Abernathy (5:28), Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Media Economics at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism. Abernathy’s research on the decline and consolidation of newspapers across the country is a critical resource for funders hoping to understand the scope of the news desert problem. “It’s important to think about news deserts in terms of the lack of access to a newspaper,” Abernathy says, adding that there are three areas in need of investment, which include increased public and nonprofit funding for journalism organizations located in areas at risk of becoming news deserts. Learn more about Abernathy’s research.
  • Carmen Lopez-Wilson (17:04), program consultant with the Thornburg Foundation, who discussed Thornburg’s collaboration with the Democracy Fund to support a stronger media ecosystem in New Mexico. Lopez-Wilson’s program area focuses on increasing transparency within government agencies and other good government initiatives, and says that the foundation’s journalism investments stemmed from noting that more people were willing to engage in social issues when journalists had better access to data.
  • Lenzi Abma (23:38), program officer at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, shared what the foundation learned from its scan of the region’s journalism landscape and its partnership with the Knight and Ford foundations to establish the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund. The fund was launched in 2017 to help strengthen local news coverage for communities in Detroit. The landscape scan revealed a lack of watchdog investigative journalism and a sense that the city’s most important issues were not being covered.
  • Emily Bell (32:12), founding director of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, discussed how local journalism has become a central part of the Center’s research, which includes a survey on digital innovation for small-market newsrooms and other work.
  • Sam Ford (36:03), a Tow Center fellow and director of Cultural Intelligence for Simon & Schuster. Ford’s work in rural Kentucky offers innovative ideas for engaging with rural communities around local news.

About the Journalism Funders Network
Network MIF’s Journalism Funders Network is a diverse constellation of 50-plus philanthropy organizations working in journalism and media. The network is aimed at strengthening connections among members and giving funders ample opportunities to discuss their current work among peers. Want to join this vibrant and growing network? Email us at

About the Author
Nina Sachdev

Nina Sachdev

Director of Communications

Nina Sachdev brings more than 20 years of journalism, news editing and marketing experience to her role as a communications director for Media Impact Funders (MIF). Since joining MIF in 2016, Nina has been leading efforts to showcase the power of media, journalism and storytelling to the philanthropic community. Through strategic communications, member engagement strategies and high-profile speaking events, Nina works to educate and inspire funders to make more strategic decisions about their media funding. Nina brings with her from her journalism days a special focus on sexual assault and reproductive health, and is a tireless advocate for the importance of quality, impactful media and journalism around these topics.
Nina cut her teeth in journalism at The Dallas Morning News, where—as an intern on the copy desk—she was tasked with editing the obituaries of famous people who hadn’t yet died. Since then, Nina has worked at The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Weekly in almost every editorial capacity imaginable, including senior editor, A1 editor (when that used to be a thing) and slot (does anyone remember that being a thing?).
Nina is the creator and editor of the award-winning The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, which exposes the reality of healing from the effects of sexual abuse. Nina holds an M.A. in journalism from Temple University. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.