When towns lose their newspapers, disease detectives are left flying blind

Maia Majumder was on Twitter earlier this month when she saw a map that terrified her.

The map recorded the number of local newspapers in each county across the United States. Large swaths were shaded light pink, denoting a county that had no local newspaper at all. As a record of the decline of the American newspaper industry, it was disconcerting.

But Majumder, a scientist who specializes in mathematical modeling, saw something different in the splotches of light pink: a disaster for infectious disease surveillance.

Epidemiologists rely on all kinds of data to detect the spread of disease, including reports from local and state agencies and social media. But local newspapers are critical to identifying outbreaks and forecasting their trajectories.

On the map, Majumder saw every county without a local newspaper as a community where health officials and disease researchers could be flying blind.

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