For all the praise that goes to local news and the importance of preserving it, the dirty secret of today’s newspapers is that there is not so much local coverage left to save. A 2018 Duke University study out of 16,000 local news outlets (including broadcasters) in 100 parishes, only about 17 percent of the articles thought the articles were truly local (i.e., they played or were about the local parish), and just over half were hard news. Another result from 2018 by Bank found that only 16 percent of Americans “often” get their news from a newspaper, further diminishing the status of the press. Another indication of how scarce local news has become: Last year when Facebook was gone Prospecting for including local news in a new section called “Today In” it found that one in three of its users lived in places where not enough local news was posted to keep the section going. “New Jersey was the worst place to find local news on Facebook, with 58 percent of users not being able to do it on any day in the past month.” Recode reported. What the Pew respondents may really be saying is that you can’t miss out on what’s already gone.
Where has all the local news gone? A few decades ago, publishers were raking in so much revenue that they invented new sections, including local news, to spend the loot. Many subway newspapers ran weekly sections on computers and tech, weekly TV guides, free-standing business sections with page-by-page stock prices, Sunday magazines, pull-out book reviews, and weekly tabloids on suburban areas. The Washington Post ran a weekly section called “Sunday Source,” aimed at young readers, and column after column of police leaflets in the District Weekly section. Newspapers were ATMs, even in regional markets like Buffalo, N.Y. In her book Ghosting the news, Washington Post Columnist Margaret Sullivan writes that her old newspaper, the Buffalo NewsShe was once so flushed that “the news would send a million dollars a week “to its owner, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. But after the Internet destroyed the advertising pit that had secured newspaper revenues for more than a century, editors and publishers reduced the old newspaper, including the local sections, to a simpler package to save costs.
The decline in local news went hand in hand with the decline in newspaper audiences. The American newspaper published in 1940, when the population was less than half of what it is today traffic was bigger. Newspapers lost their audience not only to the Internet, but also to cable, television and radio, and the non-news capabilities of smartphones. The advertising money that once helped support local news fled to the web, where ads could be better combined with content – sometimes at a lower cost – to sell an advertiser’s goods. As a Google economist Hal Varian In 2013, news-only had “very high social value to interested readers” but “low commercial value due to the difficulty of serving contextual ads”.
There are proofs that inexpensive quality National News online from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, and other channels have sucked readers who might otherwise be part of the local news. Newspapers also appear to be out of the reach of many readers and have skyrocketed subscription costs to cover the collapse in advertising revenue. 1980 for example the Washington Post billed $ 92 a year for weekday and Sunday delivery ($ 315 today). Today, the post charges $ 1,160 annually for a lesser product. The post is of course not alone. Iris Chyi of the University of Texas notes that many regional newspapers have the $ 1,000 per year mark for subscriptions. That’s a lot of money in most family budgets – more than annual subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and HBO Max combined would cost.
The great masses of readers and advertisers may scorn local news, but that doesn’t make its production a futile gesture. Plenty of nonprofit local news startups exist in places like San Diego, Denver, Santa Cruz, Minneapolis and Flint, and along with local public radio stations that have expanded their news coverage, these channels do the job of yeoman. Axios has set up small local intelligence services in half a dozen cities and promises to expand to others, despite being one of its founders told the Wall Street Journal last year that the localized newsletters would focus on business, technology and education rather than politics. One of the best local news sites in the country is in Memphis, where the shrinkage the Gannett’s own Commercial complaint Newsroom inspired the founding of the Daily Memphian, a nonprofit, local news site, in 2018. With donations of $ 8.2 million – “philanthropic venture capital,” as some call it – the site now has a newsroom the size of the Commercial complaints and nearly 14,000 subscribers pay an average of $ 9.25 per month. Its operators are confident the Daily Memphian can reach 25,000 paying subscribers to become sustainable in a few years. But for a subway area of approx 1.3 million, 25,000 subscribers is still a relatively thin demographic. In 2000 the Commercial complaint touched 238,000 Sunday prints and more than 184,000 daily. Today is traffic stands at around 52,000 on Sundays and 29,000 daily, which can be read as a rejection of the newspaper by the community or a disinterest in local news – or both.
Local news advocates like Steve Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, wants local news to be declared a public good – an essential service no one can make money on – and get governments to fund it with subsidies, refundable tax credits (similar to the federal campaign finance credit on your 1040), tax incentives, government advertising and other interventions.
You should read Waldman’s pitch on Washington monthly, but even if we set up such a subsidized and tax-exempt company, can masses of readers be attracted? Do journalists design local news initiatives that please them and their academic peers but don’t appeal to readers? As my friend Jason Pontin, former editor and editor of Technology review, noted last month, “Media types sentimentalize local news because they portray local news journalists as a heroic caste that ‘holds the powerful to account’ and holds communities together.” But this “fetishization” of local news ignores the public’s unwillingness to pay for the product. Local news just doesn’t produce a product that people need. “
All of the world’s studies, monographs, and arguments for the common good are unlikely to win over readers. It is telling that two of America’s best and most successful newspapers are owned by Jeff Bezos Washington Post and the New York Times, have neglected local news for the past few decades. Maybe they know something the local news doesn’t. The most enthusiastic groups for the rescue and distribution of local news are journalists whose self-interest is evident; good government types who enjoy the watchdog role of the press; Tech giants like Google and Facebookwho donated millions to local news to disarm critics who claim to have destroyed newspapers (they didn’t, but that’s another column); Politician like Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, who sees the news as “infrastructure”; and academics and foundations who say local coverage is an integral part of a functioning society.
The local news movement won’t make great strides until its proponents realize that its main obstacle is a demand-side rather than a supply-side. It is not that nobody wants to read local news; It’s just that not enough people are doing it to make it a viable business. Perhaps the abundance of local news from yesteryear was the product of an economic accident, a moment that cannot be recovered. But even if you backed up local news with taxes and philanthropy and distributed it to citizens through subsidies, you would still have to find a way to get people to read it. Until an editorial genius solves this mystery, finding local news will remain a niche charitable project driven by journalistic, academic, and political elites.
Nextdoor is not news so don’t bother me with an email [email protected] citing it. My Email notifications would like to take a job posting local news My Twitter sees itself as an international location. The only local copy my RSS feed wants to read is the police record.