What do you call it when a hedge fund buys a local newspaper and squeezes it for revenue, laying off editors and reporters and selling off the paper’s downtown headquarters for conversion into luxury condos or a boutique hotel?
The devastation has become common enough that some observers have resorted to shorthand for what collectively amounts to an extinction-level event. One former editor calls it a “harvesting strategy”; Margaret Sullivan, in her new book, “Ghosting the News,” calls it “strip-mining.” Like the climate emergency that Sullivan mentions by way of comparison, the decimation of local news yields two phenomena that happen to feed off each other: The far-reaching effects are cataclysmic, and it’s hard to convince a significant number of people that they ought to care.
“Disinformation” and “fake news” bring to mind scheming operatives, Russian troll farms and noisy propaganda; stories about them are titillating enough to garner plenty of attention. But what Sullivan writes about is a “real-news problem” — the shuttering of more than 2,000 American newspapers since 2004, and the creation of “news deserts,” or entire counties with no local news outlets at all.