After the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, there has been much wringing of hands about the threat to democracy posed by militant, conspiracy-crazed followers of Donald Trump. As real as that threat may be, democracy faces an even more dire challenge that too many people ignore: the demise of local newspapers.

The hard truth is that democracy cannot exist in the absence of a free and independent press. While it may seem that our republic is being well-defended by large newspapers with a national presence like The New York Times and The Washington Post, in much of the country local and state governments, business interests and other powerful institutions are not being scrutinized and called to account because local newspapers have either gone out of business or have been so stripped of resources that they cannot adequately perform their watchdog role.

There are many culprits in this crisis. Among them are the big tech companies like Google that have conquered the advertising market that once supported newspapers and that now expropriate the work of journalists, while paying little or no compensation. There are also the huge newspaper chains such as Gannett that gobble up local newspapers and then proceed to cut staff and fill news pages with generic, nonlocal stories.

At least Gannett wants to be in the news business. The more foul villains are the hedge-fund operators who descend like vampires on struggling newspapers. With no interest in journalism or in the communities that depend on the information their local newspaper provides, these financial predators starve their acquisitions while they suck out every last drop of profit until the newspaper dies, and they move on to another victim.

Looking for enemies of democracy? You need look no further than the hedge-fund oligarchs who are hastening the death of local news.

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