Local news may be suffering due to staff cutbacks and newspapers being closed by their hedge funds owners. Nobody should assume that this is what readers want.
They crave local news, not some bland rewrite from a city two states away, judging by a new study from the American Journalism Project
However, their needs are not identical.
“When asked about what topics they want information about, people may have a tendency to prioritize different topics in each market,” writes Loretta Chao, vice president of strategy and startups at the American Journalism Project, in an analysis published on the Project site.
Chao continues, “Transportation agencies and highway commissions come up more in places like Houston and Los Angeles, for example, while political polarization is top of mind for many people in Wichita and across Indiana. Government transparency and criminal justice are top of mind for many in Cleveland. Housing is consistently a top-three issue across the board.”
Those are not the only differences.
“Within single regions, we’ve encountered communities who have fond respect for their local newspapers, while others in the same place feel they’ve been harmed by the very same publications — or hadn’t even heard of them,” Chao reports. “We’ve also spoken to people who have no exposure to local news outside of word-of-mouth, because of paywalls, digital divides, or literacy or language barriers.”
But there are even more similarities. The study concluded that:
People do want more local news — emphasis on local.
People want a shared, trusted source of facts.
People want the full story of their communities to be told.
People want to know about decisions before they’re made, and they want decision makers to be accountable for outcomes.
People want to see themselves in the news, and in the newsroom.
People want journalists to ask their questions.
People want information they can act on.
People want the news to meet them where they are.
People want newsrooms to play a role in connecting and convening communities.
One other thing is clear: reporters have to be engaged with their communities. “people want information exchange, not just consumption. It’s just as important to them that reporters spend time in local neighborhoods to learn from local residents, as it is for reporters to inform residents. They see it as journalists’ jobs to ask their questions to the powers that be, to represent their concerns, and to report the angles they care about.”
The Project heard from “nearly 5,000 residents in eight local markets across the country about their experience with journalism in their communities and what kinds of local information would be most useful to them, “ Chao explains.
But Chao notes: “Our research isn’t statistically relevant — we do broad outreach with a focus on reaching as many different experience communities as possible, with a special focus on ensuring we hear from people who aren’t easily reached through usual channels. Our findings are a qualitative synthesis that improves as we talk to more people in more markets.”