Publisher and assistant editor of The Quoddy Times (a local paper out of Eastport, ME) Lora Whelan told Atlantic reporter James Fallows “it can be boring … to go to city-council meetings every month, and county-commissioner meetings every month. But … those are the kinds of stories that local people need to know, and want to know, and that are getting lost with some of the papers that don’t have the resources ... It’s not exciting most of the time, but it’s critical.”
Over the last 15 years, more than 2,100 local news outlets have gone out of business: a devastating loss to the American media landscape at a time when public trust in journalism is already dangerously low. Trust in the media is positively correlated with news literacy; when audiences are better informed about how news functions, their faith in media rises accordingly. Because communities have greater exposure to local reporters, encountering them at events like high school sports and the aforementioned city council meetings, these local journalists are perceived as more trustworthy and caring than their national counterparts. In addition to building goodwill and disseminating information about local government and events (a need which larger flagship papers by definition cannot serve), local news fosters a greater sense of community belonging and civic participation in readers.
Correspondingly, when the interdependent relationship between local news, news literacy, and a healthy democracy is endangered, partisanship and misinformation flourish. The articles in this collection highlight the ways in which local papers across the country have leveraged unusual methods of financial support, strong community relationships, and innovative publishing formats to fight the trend of closures and continue providing vital reporting.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on news and public information.
- How has the corporate news model failed local communities?
- What steps did the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle take to make their coverage more inclusive of and appealing to readers of color?
- In an era when increasing numbers of people - especially young Americans - prefer to get information online and from social media, how can local news organizations make a case for their unique value?
- The fundamental requirements of literacy in the 21st century (in news, information, digital technology...) are the abilities to find, understand, create, and act on information. Based on these criteria, do the local news start-ups covered in this collection improve the news literacy of the community? Why or why not?
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- National media chains like Gannett and Gate House frequently purchase smaller local papers and lay off large percentages of staff, leaving a skeleton crew that lacks the resources to conduct in-depth reporting in the areas a community needs. Similarly, some communities have watched national outlets purchase their local paper only to completely close down production or merge production with another city, decreasing the amount of local coverage provided.
- The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle began their efforts to improve their coverage by recruiting diverse community partners, including a Latinx organization that helped place their coverage on Spanish-language radio stations. Next, the paper formed a mobile news lab, allowing reporters to meet and form relationships with residents where they lived and worked; they also used several social media platforms to gather feedback and story ideas from community members. To track their progress, they measured how much of their overall content focused on Black and brown communities, which topics resonated strongly, and how much their circulation grew in their target neighborhoods.
- James Fallow explained it best: "[local journalism] is important because so much of the future of American economic, cultural, and civic life is now being devised and determined at the local or state level. Educational innovation, promotion of new industries and creation of fairer opportunities, absorption of new arrivals (in growing communities) and retaining existing talent (in shrinking ones), reform of policing and prison practices, equitable housing and transportation policies, offsets to addiction and homelessness and other widespread problems, environmental sustainability—these and just about every other issue you can think of are the subjects of countless simultaneous experiments going on across the country. Voters, residents, and taxpayers need to know what is happening (or not), and what is working (or not), in their school systems, and their city councils, and their state capitals."
- Answers will vary depending upon the news outlet respondents select for discussion.