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Reviving local news

Local newspapers are struggling in many countries. A recently published report in the USA highlights the challenges and opportunities.

By James Evelegh

Reviving local news

Local news matters.

When local news provision disappears, society suffers, “since people know less and less about what their local government officials are doing, voter participation in local and state elections declines, corruption in both government and business increases, and local residents end up paying more in taxes and at checkout.”

So say the authors of ‘The State of Local News 2023’ report, produced by researchers at Northwestern University’s Medill School in November.

The report which looked at the situation in the USA, found that “residents in more than half of U.S. counties have no, or very limited, access to a reliable local news source – either print, digital or broadcast,” and that “newspapers are continuing to vanish at an average rate of more than two a week”.

Yet, the outlook was not all doom and gloom. In the section of the report entitled, ‘The Possibilities for Reviving Local News’, the authors hold out hope for a brighter future, based on a number of initiatives that were either under way or under consideration. These included:

  1. Government support: the report identified three strands: the extension of broadband; ongoing efforts to level the playing field with the digital behemoths; exploring the potential for rolling out tax credits for news organisations that hire reporters and also for small businesses that advertised with local news outlets.
  2. Philanthropy: The report noted that, “in September, a coalition of 22 philanthropic organisations and foundations announced they were pledging an unprecedented half a billion dollars over the next five years to support local news operations.”
  3. Collaboration with universities: Where local reporters were thin on the ground, universities were stepping in, placing students to help bolster thinly-manned local newsrooms or launching student-run local news operations in communities without one.
  4. Local innovation: As part of the research, they identified 17 successful local news initiatives. One notable aspect was wide variety of different business models: “There is no one business model that unites all of them. Rather each has developed a model unique to the community these outlets serve.”

News deserts are a disaster in the making. With determination, government support and local innovation, decline can be reversed. Help from the odd well-meaning billionaire would certainly help too.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.