The future of local journalism

Illustration : Pau Gasol Valls

With 1,331 newspapers across the nation (as of 2014), the culture of local press in the United States is strong. However, it is being threatened by large news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as digital sources like Quartz and BuzzFeed. Without the economic resources of big media nor the digital prowess of the new media, local newsrooms are on the constant defense.

In a society where its citizens find politics and media to be inaccessible and distant, local journalism does have one card up its sleeve: its proximity.

Meet Kristen Hare:

A 38 year-old mother of two, Hare finds passion in one other thing: local stories. Far from the international media outlets in New York City or Washington, D.C., she has worked for several years in rural and urban Missouri covering the stories in local communities. At the Tampa, Florida-based Poynter Institute, Hare explores the future of local journalism in the United States through her reporting and the newsletter Local Edition.

What’s the difference between local and national newsrooms?

Kristen: They have fewer resources in two major ways — people and money. National newsrooms including The New York Times and The Washington Post have pushed innovation and brought in digital audiences because of it. Local newsrooms have been much slower to react, but many have started the hard work of transformation.

A good example of this is the work done by The Dallas Morning News in 2014. After months of reevaluating, the newsroom found a way to survive through their own radical renovation.

The Dallas Morning News

In France, the newspaper with the highest circulation is not Le Monde (269,000 copies in 2016) nor Le Figaro (305,000 copies). It’s Ouest France (678,000 copies), a regional newspaper from Brittany. How could you explain this?

Kristen: Local journalism can count on two very important elements: the proximity and the trust of its readership. Most people can now find out world news quickly through national outlets and social media. But only local outlets can tell you about those events that will most directly influence people’s lives. That includes covering local government and schools.

What is the role of technology concerning local journalism?

Kristen: Digital technology affected local and national journalism in the same way, pushing journalists to change their habits. For example, print journalists used to arrive at the newsroom very late in the morning, instead focusing their work through the afternoon.

But the digital audience is up much earlier, and so digital journalists have adjusted to meet those readers. Journalists at local newsrooms are starting to do that, too. It’s a small change — working earlier — but it’s big because it acknowledges that we have to think about our audience.

How did the arrival of Trump at the White House impact the future of local journalism?

Kristen: So far, President Trump hasn’t targeted local journalism. Of course, he keeps us all very busy anyway. But while national journalists are, in my opinion, doing a great job of keeping us informed about what the new administration is up to, local journalists are telling their communities what that will mean for them — health care, immigration, education, and on and on.

I don’t know how the Trump administration will impact the future of local news, but I do see more people remembering why news matters. That helps us all.

With the complex nature that currently surrounds the press, what are the tools that journalists can use to protect their values and rights?

Kristen: Newsrooms can protect themselves with a decent legal department and journalists should have a solid understanding of the First Amendment of the Constitution. It’s basic, but essential.

Recently, the Washington Post changed its slogan from “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” What are your thoughts?

If you think about it, the names of news outlets always reflect the time we live in: The Telegraph, The Post… What they’re saying isn’t radical. They’re simply expressing their mission as journalists.

Subscribe to the newsletter conversation about the future of local news of Poynter, by Kristen Hare.

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