Ownership changes, layoffs, newsprint tariffs, and a continuing transition to digital have taken their toll on news organizations.
Local news agencies have been the most affected.
Broadcast stations saw declines in audience and revenue from 2016 to 2017, according to Pew Research Center’s Local TV News Fact Sheet.
With smaller staffs and budgets, it’s easy to see how these changes could hit hard in local newsrooms. To fill in the gaps, teams may need to rely on larger publications for their stories.
In a recent study by Duke University, researchers looked at 16,000 news stories from 100 communities not located in major media markets. The “news deserts” were worse than they thought; only 17 percent of the news stories were truly local.
Why local news matters
Although local news tends to be the most affected by industry changes, many suggest that it’s the one most worth fighting for.
Supporters argue that local journalists are the only ones who can accurately present a local story.
In Why Local Journalism Makes a Difference, Krista Kapralos, of Global Press Institute, says the Reliability Gap occurs when a journalist attempts to compile the facts without understanding the local context. Kapralos argues that just because a report is accurate, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
Readers also tend to trust their local news more than national outlets.
A recent Poynter Media Trust Survey found that 76 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in local TV news, and 73 percent trust their local newspapers.
Perhaps this is because news outlets tailor content to local audiences. Viewers and readers depend on these outlets to keep them informed on topics that matter most, like education, crime, politics, or high school sports.
“The thing I love about local news is that it doesn’t scale,” Harry Siegel, a senior editor for The Daily Beast, says in Why we need local journalism: Look around at how vulnerable we are right now. “It happens one court hearing or campaign or crime at a time so that you can fairly try and connect political decisions to individual people, the life of the city to that of its inhabitants.”
Making a difference
The good news is there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. We’ve seen many recent examples of collaboration among news organizations to promote local news and publish quality journalism.
These are a few of our favorite projects.
As the website explains, “Global Press Journal exists to create a more just and informed world by training and employing local female journalists to produce ethical, accurate news coverage from the world’s least-covered places.”
Global Press Journal believes that journalists covering their own communities can produce a more accurate story because they understand the local context and nuances.
GPJ’s 4-step process of local reporting, fact checking, editing, and translation produces stories that are vetted, accurate, and representative of local cultures.
To help regional journalists interpret data and get stories from it, BBC’s Shared Data Unit provides the media with data journalism training and more than 36,000 datasets.
Data has been shared with more than 800 regional media outlets and it’s given local journalists the opportunity to work on deep-dive investigative pieces.
More than 300 stories have resulted from the project thus far, according to journalism.co.uk.
This fact-checking initiative was launched as a pilot by Tegna stations in 2016 to answer local viewers’ questions.
The goal was to build audience trust by answering questions that required original sources and unique perspectives.
The service has evolved to include a national team to answer broader questions, allowing local reporters to focus on questions specific to their communities. It’s also being used to verify information and rumors during breaking news situations, like a recent school shooting outside Houston.
This collaboration of 19 local news organizations puts competition aside to “provide in-depth, nuanced and solutions-oriented reporting on the issues of poverty and the push for economic justice in Philadelphia.”
The second iteration of the Reentry Project, Broke in Philly is a year-and-a-half-long project that also offers a language guide and resources map on its website.
Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth project.
“We place talented emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered communities and issues,” the site says. “We are looking for reporters with great skills, character and commitment to public service journalism. And we seek news organizations ready to deploy these journalists to dramatically improve local coverage and the public trust of the news media.”
The application period for the 2019-2020 class of reporters runs from Nov. 1, 2018, to Feb. 1, 2019. Newsrooms looking to participate still have time to apply before the Oct. 31, 2018, deadline.
6. The City
In an effort to replace some of the local journalism lost after the layoffs at the New York Daily News and the shuttering of the Village Voice, nonprofit site The City announced a partnership with New York magazine.
Jere Hester, a former editor with The Daily News, will lead the team of 15 journalists. Hester told The New York Times, “We’re really hoping to not only do some good here, but also to kind of reconnect people to civil activity.”
ProPublica recently expanded its successful project to fund “full-time reporters at seven partner news organizations who are dedicated to big investigative projects focused on state politics and state government.”
The state government and politics projects will be in addition to other Local Reporting Network topics of conflicts of interest, housing, mental health care, criminal justice, and workplace safety.
Founded by Rose Ciotta, a Pulitzer-winning investigative editor, IECorps aims to connect experienced investigative reporters with local newsrooms that may not have the manpower for in-depth stories.
Volunteer editors receive a stipend and help train and mentor a new generation of journalists.
Editors interested in volunteering can fill out this form.
Three Oregon news organizations — Salem Reporter, Pamplin Media Group, and EO Media Group — have pooled their resources to increase coverage of the state government.
The team is made up of one reporter from each organization, making it the largest team in the state focused on state government.
The Oregon Capital Insider, the project’s weekly newsletter, has more than 84,000 subscribers, according to the Salem Reporter.
10. Spectrum News
In August, Charter Communications announced plans to debut a 24-hour local news service for Los Angeles subscribers of its Spectrum pay-TV service.
According to the announcement, “The company’s journalists will explore community issues and happenings that typically fly below the media radar, such as beach cleanups, charity events and high school sports.”
With potential to reach more than a million TV homes in the area, Charter plans to hire 125 employees.
Non-profit organization The Lenfest Institute recently announced the launch of the Lenfest Local Lab.
The Lab continues the organization’s goal of keeping high-quality local journalism alive in the digital age. It will be a “cross-disciplinary team of developers, designers, analysts and journalists collaborating to prototype new consumer-facing digital local news and information experiences.”
The Lenfest Institute also recently announced, in partnership with the Knight Foundation, that a $20 million joint fund is being created to boost local news.
12. Radically Rural
Radically Rural is a two-day conference in Keene, NH, that brings together local journalists to network, learn, and collaborate.
Instead of the typical ballroom setting, Radically Rural immerses attendees in the local community by placing meeting areas throughout the small town’s downtown.
The conference offers attendees five program tracks, including Arts & Culture, Entrepreneurship, and Main Street.
For more cases of local journalism collaborations, Poynter previously compiled a list of 56 examples.
Changes for the better
Aside from the collaborations, there have been other bright spots in the local news world.
Tariffs on Canadian newsprint were overturned, allowing small- and mid-size publishers some relief from increasing costs.
Investigative Reporters & Editors saw donations rise 18 percent in the past year, as well as increases in membership and audience on digital platforms.
“Taken together, nurtured by funders and community members who are agnostic about what comes next, and strengthened by collaboration,” he said, “there’s a framework in sight for replacing — and in some cases exceeding — the local journalism we’ve lost.”
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Author Rocky Parker works in Audience Relations at PR Newswire. When she’s not working, Rocky can be found testing new recipes, binge watching a new Netflix series, or taking her pitbull puppy Hudson out around town.