With the advent of smart phones, laptops and social media, the news can seem more present in modern life than ever. But in reality, news is facing a dire crisis, which only serves to undermine American democracy, says Margaret Sullivan, media columnist for the Washington Post and author of the new book Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.
Sullivan explains to Katie Couric, as part of a series produced with TIME, that between 2004 and 2019, 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. went out of business. This led to many communities becoming “news deserts”—places with limited local news sources. This means that in many places, there may be no reporters to show up at city council meetings, local school boards or other events, and no one to hold politicians and other people with power accountable.
The decline of local news can have significant consequences for communities, Sullivan tells Couric. Citizens tend to become less civically engaged, less likely to vote and more likely to “go into their partisan corners” and vote along party lines when they do go to the polls. Without the contributions of local news reporters, Sullivan warns, “our democracy actually doesn’t work any more.”
“The framers of the Constitution really were clear about the fact that in order to have this government for the people, and by the people, that the people needed to be well-informed. Not just about what’s happening in Washington, but what’s happening in their own towns and cities,” says Sullivan. “So if you care about the way that America is supposed to work, I think we really need local journalism—and that comes from the people.”
See the full interview in the video above.
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.