Does local news matter? Here’s what we’re learning.
Local news powers our democracy. Local journalism offers trusted information about the issues that matter most to readers in the community and holds those in power accountable to the people they serve. Local nonprofit news offers a new model that disrupts political polarization by moving away from party politics and prioritizing the issues in readers’ neighborhoods. Local news also has the potential to reach audiences frequently overlooked in national outlets by taking a community listening approach and prioritizing diverse representation in the newsroom.
This fall, we hosted a series of panels centered around one question: Does local news matter? Each panel highlighted a researcher and a leader of a local nonprofit news organization.
If you weren’t able to attend — or if you’d like to watch again — we’ve compiled the main highlights from each conversation, along with a recording of the talks.
- What happened when a local newspaper in California dropped national politics from its opinion page? This conversation was moderated by Marsha Cooke, vice president of ESPN Films and executive producer of 30 for 30. Cooke sat down with Joshua Darr, associate dean for research and strategic initiatives at Louisiana State University, and Ramona Giwargis, co-founder and CEO of the San José Spotlight, an American Journalism Project grantee. Panelists explored insights from “Home Style Opinion,” a book on how local newspapers can slow polarization, and heard a first-hand perspective from nonprofit news organization San José Spotlight. Darr shared findings from his research on the impact in communities where local news outlets have shut down, revealing that these communities exhibited increased polarization in a number of ways. Giwargis talked about how her newsroom is finding common ground among readers by prioritizing local issues like traffic, neighborhoods and schools in its coverage. Read a recap and watch a recording of Conversation 1: “How does local news curb polarization?”
- Americans have grown less engaged with local politics and elections, despite high volumes of information available online and a growing interest in national politics. In this conversation, moderated by Peter Lattman, managing director of media at the Emerson Collective we explored insights from panelist and professor of political science at George Washington University, Danny Hayes’ book “News Hole: The Demise of Local Journalism and Political Engagement,” and heard a first-hand perspective from Mazin Sidahmed, co-executive director of nonprofit news organization Documented. Hayes’ research identified a need for more high quality local news, which Sidahmed and his team are responding to through community listening, with a focus on New York City’s immigrant groups. Read a recap and watch a recording of Conversation 2: “Can rebuilding local news foster civic engagement?”
- Local news organizations are recognizing and responding to a long-unanswered need to better represent people of color in their communities through their staffing and coverage. In this conversation, moderated by Irving Washington, CEO of the Online News Association and vice chair of the American Journalism Project, Andrea Wenzel, assistant professor in Temple University’s Department of Journalism shared highlights from her book “Sourcing Diversity, Shifting Culture: Building ‘Cultural Competence’ in Public Media,” which explores how leaders in public media are starting to make this shift, and Ju-Don Marshall shared firsthand lessons from the nonprofit news organization, WFAE, where she serves as chief content officer and executive vice president. Wenzel’s research uncovered how cultural competence can be embedded into a nonprofit, community-serving news organizations infrastructure, and Marshall’s leadership at WFAE has brought these approaches to staffing pipeline, newsroom culture and community outreach settings. Read a recap and watch a recording of Conversation 3: How can local news reflect the communities it serves?.
- Local news outlets provide vital information about local government to their communities — and play a critical role in holding the powerful to account. Michelle De La Isla, former mayor of Topeka, Kansas, moderated this session , which focused on findings from Nikki Usher’s book, “News for the Rich, White, and Blue” and Jon Ralston’s firsthand experiences from the Nevada Independent. Usher’s research uncovered important findings about how to disrupt a hyper-partisan media environment. At the Nevada Independent, Ralston and his team are creating a newsroom norm of deep transparency and watchdog journalism that goes in-depth into the government and business corruption stories that often go overlooked. Read the recap and watch a recording of Conversation 4: How can local news can keep government accountable?