Surviving The Pandemic In An Expanding Wisconsin News Desert

“It’s a void, other than what you pick up on social media, which of course may only be partly true and partly rumor.” 

By Henry Redman
Wisconsin Examiner (8/3/20)

If a person is infected in the forest, and no one is there to report it, were they infected at all? 

The answer is yes, of course, but as COVID-19 continues to spread through all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, people are increasingly being infected in communities that have seen local journalism institutions shut down or hollowed out — places known as news deserts. 

Since 2004, Wisconsin has lost 77 newspapers, according to a University of North Carolina database. That’s a loss of 28% of the state’s daily and weekly print news. Circulation has taken an even bigger hit — dropping 39% since 2004. 

Wisconsin newspapers have also been bought up by large corporations. Nearly 40% of the state’s 197 remaining papers are owned by five companies. 

According to the UNC database, Lee Enterprises owns 20 newspapers, including the Wisconsin State Journal. Adams Publishing Group owns 22 newspapers, from the Beloit Daily News in Rock County to the Daily Press in Ashland County with major dailies like the Janesville Gazette and Eau Claire Leader-Telegram in between. 

Gannett — the largest newspaper owner in the country — owns 16 newspapers, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. 

Not yet covered by the UNC data is the effect of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. With advertising revenue drying up, newspapers have been pushed out of business or been left hanging by a thread across the country. The La Crosse Tribune, a major daily paper in western Wisconsin owned by Lee Enterprises, recently announced it would be cutting back to printing just five days a week — before a public outcry caused the paper to reverse course

This is the state of Wisconsin media as it faces one of its largest crises in a century — a time when information is more necessary than ever. …

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