Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Local news is dying, taking small-town America along with it

Less than one-fifth of stories produced by US outlets have anything to do with their region, carrying serious consequences for social cohesion, voting and even bonds

By Riley Griffin  /  Bloomberg

He understands the temptation to package news made elsewhere to cut costs, “but if we try to follow the rest of the news industry with national and state coverage, we’ll lose that battle,” he said.

It is not just rural America that has seen a decline in local news. Communities closest to large media markets, such as New York, Washington or Los Angeles, have the least robust local journalism, the study found.

“Content tends to flow from large markets to smaller markets, which can discourage consumption of local journalism,” Napoli said.

New Jersey, for example, lives in the shadow of New York and Philadelphia. Sandwiched between large media markets, the state has struggled to lure journalists to cover local news for smaller outlets.

Even inside the nation’s biggest media hub, outlets that cover local events are suffering. The New York Daily News halved its staff in July, and the Village Voice, a legendary investigator of malfeasance in New York City and Albany, New York, officially died last weekend.

In Washington, a slew of newspapers have shuttered, too.

Within urban, suburban and rural areas, minority communities remain the most underserved by local news coverage.

Regions with large Hispanic populations in particular received less robust local journalism, the Duke study found.

“Local news outlets play a vital role in the daily lives of communities who are often ignored by mega-media companies that are disconnected geographically and culturally,” National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Hugo Balta said in an e-mail.

“The regionalization of content production, a failed one-size-fits-all practice, is irrelevant to already underserved communities like Hispanics, especially in small markets where information about local government, education, health and other important issues is indispensable,” Balta said. “The public is suffering.”

However, there is some good news — local news media still garners more public trust than its national counterparts. More than seven in 10 Americans report they trust their local newspapers and television stations, while barely half say the same about national outlets, the Poynter Institute said.

However, this could change, Murray said.

“Building trust is a human-to-human endeavor,” she said. “I’m worried we’re going to see an erosion of trust in local media as the number of journalists on the ground in local communities declines.”

In New Jersey, the crisis has spurred government leaders to allocate US$5 million to revive and strengthen local media.

“Long term, this is a drop in the bucket, but short term this could spur some amazing projects,” Murray said.

Community Impact Newspaper has also attempted to fill the gaps in small communities surrounding media-rich cities, including Houston, Austin and Dallas.

Report for America, a journalism nonprofit modeled after AmeriCorps and Teach for America, has sought to bolster understaffed regional outlets by deploying 1,000 journalists to their newsrooms by 2022.

However, news media experts said this only scratches the surface of what is needed to rehabilitate local media.

“We’ve seen foundations and universities jump into this space, but we need more at the policy level,” said Napoli, who believes public funding could alleviate the local news crisis.

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