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The Press & Journal, a weekly paper covering Middletown, a small town near Pennsylvania’s capital, folded in July 2020 because its ad revenue collapsed in the pandemic. Its publishers, Joe and Louise Sukle, decided there was no future for the paper, even after getting a $146,000 emergency small-business loan from the government and donations from the community while seeing its site traffic zoom up.

The town has lost a local news source that covered council meetings, school board meetings, the police and important projects in the area like a new train station.

“The thing that really pains us is there’s a vacuum now,” Joe Sukle said. “The people who suffer that is the public.”

The coronavirus pandemic, a high-stakes U.S. election and a racial reckoning expanded news audiences for many newspapers and TV news channels, making 2020 a blockbuster news year. But it was terrible for the newspaper industry’s finances — and also for the public that relies on original reporting to keep it informed about local governments and communities. The overall contraction of the industry — now more than a decade old — is likely to continue in 2021.

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