By: Zoey Angelucci
As the Youngstown Vindicator closed its doors on Aug. 31 2019, the nearby city of New Castle was fighting against news desert norms to save its paper and community.
They rely financially on advertising and print and online subscriptions. They pride themselves on the idea of keeping local news, local. While bigger areas, like Youngstown, have large coverage areas and can’t get all of the area covered, New Castle reporters and editors do their best to cover every local high school football game or any local event in Lawrence County.
“All the things that we put in our paper are always intended to be something that no one else can find anywhere else,” said New Castle News publisher Sharon Sorg.
The New Castle News is located just 18 miles from Youngstown, Ohio in Lawrence County. After 150 years of operation, the Youngstown Vindicator was forced to stop production in August because of declining revenue, shutting down the city’s primary source of community information.
A news desert is a community with limited access to any sort of constant and credible news. In today’s society, news deserts are becoming more common because of a lack of money and interest surrounding news. According to Poynter, around 1,300 communities have totally lost news coverage.
“No news is always bad news,” Sorg said. “Newspapers play an instrumental role in connecting the community with their leadership, schools and other community members. We are in some ways the thread that holds it all together.”
In small communities, newspapers are what keep people up to date with their surroundings. Matthew Mangino, 50-year resident, buys and reads the New Castle News every single day.
“I like the local news in the paper,” said Mangino. “It is good to keep up with the community.”
When newspapers fail, the community suffers. “People miss those connections,” said Andrew Conte, Point Park Director of the Center for Media Innovation. “I think that’s the main thing when you live in a place like that. It’s called social capital. Social capitals are those connections between people and their community. There has been a lot of research done that shows when local news goes away, that social capital starts to erode. People are less involved. They are less aware. They vote less often.”
Youngstown with a population of 65,000, is one of the larger cities in the country to be without its own news service. New Castle is a smaller city, with a population of 22,000. But the thought of being a news desert is still a major issue.
“I can say for certain that New Castle will not be a news desert as we intend to continue to service this community for many years to come,” Sorg said. “Our mantra is currently to save community journalism.” Through gaining revenue and the promise of good coverage, Lawrence County will be saved from any possibility of becoming a news desert.
Though the New Castle News does its best to cover as much of the areas as it can, some community members still long for better coverage. Santi Albansese, 25-year resident, said he reads the New Castle News at least three times a week to keep updated on his community.
“I just wish they were a little more in-depth with the townships, like Neshannock or Shenango. (They could be) a little bit more involved on a daily basis, because they talk more about the bad stuff than the good.”
“The news has changed over the last 10 years by having more options to read it, through social media and online editions,” said Erica Bruce, 40-year resident. “I like being able to see more real time news through the New Castle News Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Before, we had to wait for the write-up of things the next day. I believe the future of news is through mobile devices using apps and through social media. People spend more time on their phones than ever and want immediate news at their fingertips.”
Although Sorg deems Lawrence County safe from becoming a news desert, they still are a growing problem in today’s world.
“It is human nature to only appreciate what you have when it is gone, but I encourage everyone to support their local newspaper. Realize the value of what we provide and subscribe. If it is already too late and your paper is gone, make sure you are finding your information from credible sources. Stay in touch,” Sorg said.