Discussion about the Demise of Local News Reporting

created Nov 21, 2019

From yesterday:

"Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions (pen.org)"


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21590454 - over 80 comments

Excerpts from the pen.org post:

As local news outlets are gutted and shuttered, reporters laid off, publication schedules cut, and resources tightened across the country, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions sounds the alarm about the existential threat facing local watchdog journalism and proposes big-picture solutions for its revitalization.

Drawing on dozens of interviews and a comprehensive analysis of emerging and existing research, Losing the News makes an impassioned case for why local journalism matters for communities and for democracy; maps out the forces driving the local news crisis; takes a clear-eyed look at the ways systemic racial, economic, and geographic inequities in the media landscape are intersecting with the decline of local reporting; spotlights promising adaptations and innovations in the media industry; and proposes big picture solutions. Three powerful case studies written by journalists based in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina help illustrate the impact of struggling local news ecosystems on communities.

As local journalism declines, government officials conduct themselves with less integrity, efficiency, and effectiveness and corporate malfeasance goes unchecked. With the loss of local news, citizens are: less likely to vote, less politically informed, and less likely to run for office.

Maybe it's the other way around. As local residents are exposed to more digital distractions, they become less interested in local political issues, which means that they have less need for local newspapers. Or if they continue to receive newspapers for sports and entertainment, they don't miss the lack of local political reporting because it's an uninteresting topic.

With the shift to digital, the business model for for-profit local journalism has collapsed, as circulation patterns have been upended and tech giants, notably the digital duopoly of Google and Facebook, have siphoned the majority of advertising revenue for content paid for and produced by news outlets.

With wording like that, I question the validity of the pen.org post about local news.

Siphoned? No. Google and Facebook have created services that most people enjoy using for entertainment and/or utility. Since both businesses accept ads, and since both businesses have attracted BILLIONS of users, then advertisers simply followed the people.

Google and Facebook did not steal nor siphon anything. They built better mousetraps. Ditto for Craigslist, which had NOTHING to do with the demise of local advertising in newspapers.

The print newspaper industry harmed itself by continuing to use a 19th century business model in the 21st century. Technological evolution pushed aside the newspaper industry's archaic thinking. Users have ENJOYED using Craigslist, Google, Facebook, etc.

Local newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations are being bought and consolidated by hedge funds and media conglomerates and often subjected to relentless cost cutting—leading to coverage that is more national, less diverse, and, in some cases, more politically polarized.

The Toledo Blade newspaper is different in that it's a family owned business. The Block family also owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Newspapers have been hit the hardest, losing over $35 billion in ad revenue and 47 percent of newsroom staff over the past 15 years. Over 1,800 newspapers have closed, leaving more than three million people with no newspaper at all, and more than at least a thousand have become “ghost newspapers,” with little original reporting.

In the mid to late 1990s, the newspaper industry failed to adapt to the web's growing popularity. The industry's solution was to create websites and give their craft away for free and hope that the ad-based business model that sustained print newspapers for over 100 years would work on the web. Epic failure.

The newspaper industry has been too slow to accept responsibility for its failures. Instead, the industry prefers to blame others for its problems, and the newspaper industry wants Big Tech and taxpayers to fund local media.

Philanthropic funding must expand dramatically to make a dent at the local level. Only a small fraction of philanthropic funding for journalism supports local news, and that funding is concentrated on the coasts and a handful of other states and often bypasses smaller and midsize outlets, as well as ethnic- or minority-led ones.

Legislators and regulators must ensure that technology companies fairly compensate local outlets for the journalism they produce, which including levying an ad revenue tax on platforms like Facebook and Google to fund local watchdog reporting.

No way. I would not subscribe to local media, nor would I trust local media if it's even partially propped-up by Facebook and Google. The media love to hammer these companies for a myriad of issues, which is valid criticism, yet the media believe that it's okay to take money from these same companies. And we're to believe that the funding would come with no strings attached.

And let's say that local newspapers or local media is sustained by siphoning money from Google and Facebook, that does not guarantee that local residents will consume local media. Making media exist does not equal consumption if people are disinterested.

Concerned about the local news crisis? Here’s what you can do:

SUBSCRIBE to and join membership programs for local news outlets.

We have a digital subscription to the Toledo Blade.

DONATE to local news outlets (such as public media and nonprofit outlets).

We donate annually to our local public media station. I enjoy listening to our local public radio station.

SPEAK or write to elected and appointed officials about the importance of local news and the need for more public funding and send comments to the FCC about deregulation efforts.

INFORM news outlets of local stories that need to be told.

As to paying for media, we also donate monthly through Patreon to Fruiting Knitting because we enjoy their informative bi-weekly video shows on YouTube.

People will fund quality products that provide some kind of usefulness to the consumers.

One major problem about local media is their horrendously designed websites that provide users with hostile experiences. And these media studies never account for the local media's terrible digital products.

HN comment:

I live in a fairly large Florida city. There is no investigative reporting and zero coverage of local politics anymore. The local news covers sports, entertainment, weather, syndicated national stories and that's it. In other words, only the stuff that makes them money.

I don't blame them. I won't pay for a subscription to a worthless newspaper, and they can't afford to do investigative reporting because it costs too much for so little return on investment.

The week before an election there is no information at all on the people running for local office, school board, judges or boring stuff like that.

That sounds like a chicken-and-egg thing. Which comes first? Better local political reporting will lead to more subscribers, or more subscribers will lead to more local political reporting.

When local journalism is discussed, it seems that people focus more on "hard" news stories, such as local political issues and investigations. But maybe residents are more interested in "softer" local news stories, such as art, entertainment, food, sports, outdoor activities, health, parenting, and home improvement.

Maybe local media orgs should initially build around softer news if it earns the most revenue, and then use that money to fund local political investigations. But if most citizens ignore the local stories about political and business corruption, then what?

HN comment:

It never fails to amaze me how little people seem to care about local politics, the stuff that effects them the most day to day. Our local elections get an okay turn out, because we've done a good job of making people aware of how important it is. But I go to a city counsel meeting, and members seem mad that someone showed up and they have to go through the motions.

Most of them run unopposed, and I assume decide who gets what while they're at the bar or something. Their election campaign is usually a facebook page with cute kids smiling, and saying nothing at all. The city doesn't know what they're up to unless they ask for money. For a long time the federal level has been increasing in power, but maybe that's because no takes an active interest in city & state.

Turnout for local elections in Toledo is abysmal. It was that way when I voted. September primaries for mayor and city council at-large candidates drew a voter turnout of only 15 to 20 percent. What's the point?

I used to be "one of those people" who criticized non-voters, but then I assumed that the non-voters must be on to something. We don't need voting to help our local communities. Voting might be the bare minimum that we can do for our local communities.

A significant percentage of voters have no clue who or what they are selecting. Too many voters choose all 'R' or all 'D' at every election, regardless of who is on the ballot. Too many voters vote according to endorsements from an organization, instead of doing their own research and thinking independently. How is any of that better than not voting?

My November 2007 post, excerpted my November 2005 comment that I posted to my message board toledotalk.com.

My above post also contains my little "poem" that I wrote in 2008.

Don't vote.
Makes no difference.
Happy people versus unhappy people.
Non-voters are more enlightened and cheerful than voters.
What you don't know can't hurt you, which leads to ignorance is bliss.
Too much time required to know the issues.
Take a class or volunteer.
Visit family, friends.
Diet, exercise.

HN comment:

The digital newspapers I've used mostly suffer from poor design.

Poor design? From what I have seen this decade, local newspaper websites would have to improve significantly to be poorly designed. They suffer from hostile, offensive design.

The commenter also said:

I think local papers suffer from a UX problem as much as they do an ad revenue problem.

The newspaper industry never acknowledges the bad design of its digital products, and the industry blames Big Tech for newspaper industry's ad revenue problem.

This is why I believe that the local media orgs that we will be using 10 years from now do not exist today. And today's local newspapers will not be a part of the future media landscape.

HN comment:

In my opinion the best book on this topic which should be required reading for pretty much everyone is Flat Earth News by Nick Davies.

HN comment:

I gave up local TV news years ago when I realized it was focused on “murder of the day” and other FUD. We even called one Channel Fear instead of Four.

We’re lucky to still have few large and small newspapers in the area that are relatively decent. Facebook groups and next door fill in the rest.

Local TV news is not a source of info for me. It hasn't been useful to me in many years.

It's a little unnerving that people believe that neighborhood Facebook groups and Nextdoor are good alternatives to professional journalism, but that's a user pref that I don't understand.

My May 2019 post that mentions the fear-mongering capabilities of Nextdoor and other services.