Small Town Happenings: Local News Values and the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Local Newspapers
Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Stephanie Hanes Wilson
According to reports on The Expanding News Desert by Penelope Muse Abernathy (2020), between 2004 and the beginning of 2020, the United States lost 2,100, or over a quarter, of its newspapers. Between April 2020 and April 16, 2021, the news desert increased as over 60 newspapers across the country closed or merged due to the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued competition of the internet.
There is ample research showing the decline of local newspapers in the United States. However, there is far less research showing how the coverage of local news publications in small counties with under 20,000 residents differs from the coverage of regional and national newspapers. Local publications in small counties undergo unique struggles because of the small sizes of their staffs, their commitment to community advertising, and the unique informational needs of the communities they serve. Using a news values model from Harcup and O’Neill (2017), I analyzed 875 article headlines from four local news publications in Virginia, Vermont, Arizona, and Mississippi. I conducted this headline analysis between July 15, 2020 and January 15, 2021. From this analysis, I determined that exclusivity, news organization’s agenda, entertainment, audio-visuals, and good news were the most frequent of Harcup and O’Neill’s news values. However, I suggest a revision of their news values that more accurately reflect local news coverage.
I also interviewed the editors and publishers of these four small counties’ news publications to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic effected their local newspapers. Through this overview, I highlight the importance of local journalism in small communities—especially during times of uncertainty.
Armstrong, Dana, "Small Town Happenings: Local News Values and the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Local Newspapers" (2021). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1711.
Please add my fourth committee member: Stephanie Hanes Wilson