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News Brief

Feb. 29, 2024 |  By: Mark Moran - Public News Service

Two rural Iowa newspapers saved from extinction


By Mark Moran - Public News Service

The University of Iowa's daily newspaper has purchased two small-town papers as part of an attempt to keep local news alive in rural Iowa, while at the same time giving university journalism students more real-world experience.

Experts who study the practice of journalism said the acquisition might be the first of its kind. The university's student-run newspaper, the Daily Iowan, bills itself as an independent student paper with an audience of about 50,000, run by 100 student employees. It just bought The Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun and The Solon Economist.

Richard Watts, director of the Center for Community News at the University of Vermont, which analyzes the impact of student-run journalism operations. He said it could be a solution to shore up local news deserts.

"Across the country, we're losing two newspapers a week," Watts pointed out. "It's a tremendous crisis. Some 80 million Americans have no source of local news."

Watts argued well-run student newspapers, while owned by universities, adhere to the same rigorous editorial and ethical standards as stand-alone journalism operations, and contended investing in local papers that would otherwise fail is an important place for colleges and universities to invest, and could serve as a model in other places facing a loss of local news reporting.

Watts noted universities have the staff, space and resources to keep local papers and information outlets alive in news deserts, not just in Iowa but across the country.

"Many universities and colleges are located in rural areas," Watts explained. "There's 1,316 college campuses that are located in a news desert or adjacent to a news desert. So that's 1,300 college campuses with some institutional strength that could step in and address this."

The Solon and Mount Vernon-Lisbon papers, both within a half-hour of the university's Iowa City campus, have historically covered local news, which the publisher said will now be able to continue. Terms of the deals were not disclosed but the money came out of The Daily Iowan's operating budget.