Many of you probably saw our story Sunday detailing the final printing of the News-Times in the county.

That issue rolled off the press Saturday evening, which is likely the last time a newspaper will ever be printed in Carteret County.

Beginning with the Wednesday edition, the News-Times will be printed in Greenville.

It’s the end of an era.

This paper was first printed in the county in 1948. The Beaufort News, which subsequently merged with Morehead City’s Twin City Daily Times, reestablishing itself as the Carteret County News-Times, was printed in the county beginning in 1902.

And who knows how many publications were printed here before then. In other words, a newspaper has been printed in this county for a very long time.

There is also another change here.

The News-Times’ building at 4206 Bridges St. in Morehead City is under contract.

The closing of the press and pressroom has not resulted in any job losses at this time. According to Editor Walter Phillips, the staff of the newspaper will remain the same and continue to work in Morehead City.

In August, I wrote a column titled, “If you don’t get a paper now, you might not be able to get one later.”

There’s no threat of not being able to get a News-Times anytime soon.

That can’t be said for every county in the country.

Poynter reported on a comprehensive study released late last year by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism that showed more than 1,300 U.S. communities have totally lost news coverage.

About 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004 when about 9,000 were being published.

“The stakes are high,” the researchers said in their report. “Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished. In an age of fake news and divisive politics, the fate of communities across the country — and of grassroots democracy itself — is linked to the vitality of local journalism.”

About 70 percent of the newspapers that have died since 2004 were in suburban areas of metropolitan areas that historically offered many news choices, the researchers said, but counties with no coverage at all tend to be rural.

State and regional papers have also pulled back dramatically, and this “has dealt a double blow to residents of outlying rural counties as well as close-in suburban areas.”

The UNC researchers’ database showed that of the 3,143 counties in the United States, more than 2,000 now have no daily newspaper, 1,449 have but one newspaper of any kind, and 171 counties, with 3.2 million residents in aggregate, have no newspaper at all.

Six counties in our state don’t have a newspaper, and five of those – Jones, Hyde, Currituck, Gates, Northampton – are in the eastern part.

You can view the national database of news deserts at usnewsdeserts.com.

Then there are ghost papers stalking these news deserts.

Ghost papers are described as “pared-down-to-nothing papers (or even single-page inserts) that are the remnants of once-robust local publications.”

“The quality, quantity and scope of their editorial content is significantly diminished,” the UNC report said of the ghosts. “Routine government meetings are not covered, for example, leaving citizens with little information about proposed tax hikes, local candidates for office or important policy issues that must be decided.”

Owners cut their news staffs so drastically that a newspaper cannot adequately cover its community. The researchers said this tends to happen at dailies and larger weeklies and estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 of the 7,100 newspapers still publishing have cut more than half of their newsroom staffs since 2004.

Last summer, the Pew Research Center released a report showing the number of newspaper newsroom employees fell from about 71,000 in 2008 to 39,000 in 2017, a decline of 45 percent.

Gatehouse Media, one of the largest publishers in the United States with 156 daily newspapers and 328 weeklies, has produced two rounds of layoffs this year.

Gatehouse owns New Bern’s Sun Journal, The Daily News of Jacksonville as well as The Free Press of Kinston and The Star News of Wilmington.

Forty employees lost their jobs last summer in cuts at New Bern and Jacksonville.

It’s a trend that isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

Wherever you live, the local newspaper is “your” newspaper. Just like the local grocery store is “yours,” as are all other local businesses. Their viability depends on you. They are only as successful as you make them with your support.

So support your local paper. Or else you could find yourself in a news desert sometime soon.

(Send comments or questions to jj@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @jjsmithccnt.)

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