Recent Posts by Alex Dixon

When “Local News” Isn’t Local

The Impact of News Deserts in Research from Pew, Facebook       

Two concerning and contradictory findings about local news attitudes emerged from a Pew Research Center study released today. While half of Americans say local media don’t cover their communities, almost three-quarters don’t realize that the loss of local news has been driven by the demolition of the business model that has historically supported newspapers.

The Pew study, which surveyed 35,000 Americans between October and November 2018, found that more than 70 percent of Americans think their local news outlets are doing very well or somewhat well financially.  As a result, less than 15 percent have paid for subscriptions or donated to local news outlets in the past year.

Nearly half of those surveyed by Pew say the local news they receive isn’t about the community in which they live. More than 1,800 local newspapers in the U.S. – or one in five – have closed or merged since 2004, according to a report by the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, The Expanding News Desert. Many of the country’s remaining local and regional papers have pulled back circulation and coverage from outlying areas as both daily circulation and newsroom employment dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2008, leaving Americans in thousands of communities without a credible and comprehensive source of local news.

More than one-third of Americans think local journalists are out of touch with the community, and a vast majority of those surveyed by Pew think it is at least somewhat important for these journalists to be personally engaged with their local area. “These figures stand out in part because Americans overwhelmingly believe local journalists should have a strong connection to the communities they report on,” said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew. “Vast majorities, for instance, put importance on local journalists being personally engaged and knowing the history of the community.”

Facebook has also recently released data that shows that one in three of its users live in places where the company cannot find enough local news to launch its “Today In” feature.  According to Facebook’s metrics, there has not been a single day in a four-week span where the company has been able to find five or more recent news articles directly related to these towns. And while the supply isn’t there, the demand is. Facebook says when it surveys users about what types of news they would like to see more of, local news tops the list “by far."

Similarly, Phil Napoli at Duke University found that were no articles on local issues and events in 20 percent of 100 communities sampled during a seven-day period in 2016.

Local TV stations top the list of outlets where Americans often get local news, according to the Pew survey. Some 38 percent of U.S. adults say they often get news from TV, while 20 percent primarily turn to local radio and 17 often use local daily newspapers. But nearly a third – 28 percent of those surveyed – said they turn to less traditional types of providers for local news, such as online forums and community newsletters. While nearly 80 percent of Americans who get local news from television and radio access it through the television set or the airwaves, nearly half – 43 percent – of the daily newspaper readers access that news digitally rather than in print.

For much more on ghost newspapers and the loss of newspapers and readers in the Expanding News Desert, visit our report page.


The Impact of News Deserts in Research from Pew, Facebook       

Two concerning and contradictory findings about local news attitudes emerged from a Pew Research Center study released today. While half of Americans say local media don’t cover their communities, almost three-quarters don’t realize that the loss of... -->

Shrinking newspapers and the costs of environmental reporting in coal country

"Shrinking newspapers and the costs of environmental reporting in coal country" by Charles Bethea for The New Yorker, March 26, 2019

"According to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina, some fourteen hundred American cities and towns have lost a newspaper during the past fifteen years. There are now more than a thousand communities in the United States that have no local news source whatsoever; recently, Facebook, which has sucked up much of the advertising money that once went to newspapers, acknowledged that it was struggling to find the local news that its users want to read, because, in many places, nobody is reporting that news."

"Shrinking newspapers and the costs of environmental reporting in coal country" by Charles Bethea for The New Yorker, March 26, 2019

"According to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina, some fourteen hundred American cities and towns have lost a... -->

Facebook says it wants to do something about news deserts

"Facebook says it wants to do something about news deserts" by Kristen Hare for Poynter, March 18, 2019

"The data Facebook is sharing with the researchers doesn’t come with any money, but Abernathy said it will include links to the stories shared on Facebook, the news outlets and cities. That information can help her and others get a better sense of places that are getting news that’s not truly local."

"Facebook says it wants to do something about news deserts" by Kristen Hare for Poynter, March 18, 2019

"The data Facebook is sharing with the researchers doesn’t come with any money, but Abernathy said it will include links to the stories shared on Facebook, the news outlets and... -->

Facebook wants to feed users more local news. There just isn’t enough of it.

"Facebook wants to feed users more local news. There just isn't enough of it." by Keach Hagey for The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2019

"One-third of Americans live in a place where Facebook can't find enough local news being shared on its service to justify building a localized aggregator for that area, according to data released by Facebook on Monday."

"Facebook wants to feed users more local news. There just isn't enough of it." by Keach Hagey for The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2019

"One-third of Americans live in a place where Facebook can't find enough local news being shared on its service to justify building a localized aggregator... -->

Going to pieces

"Going to pieces" by Chris Davis for Memphis Flyer, March 14, 2019

"Ending rural and regional home delivery also contributed to the nationwide rise of what are now being called "news deserts," a dynamic that worsened with corporate acquisition and subsequent shuttering of hometown and family newspapers in places where 40 to 60 percent of the population may not have broadband or wi-fi access. News deserts are most common in Southern states, according to the UNC report, and less likely to affect younger, whiter, and more affluent communities."

"Going to pieces" by Chris Davis for Memphis Flyer, March 14, 2019

"Ending rural and regional home delivery also contributed to the nationwide rise of what are now being called "news deserts," a dynamic that worsened with corporate acquisition and subsequent shuttering of hometown and family newspapers... -->

Collaborating at the Capitol: A new Illinois reporting service nearly doubles the number of statehouse journalists

"Collaborating at the Capitol: A new Illinois reporting service nearly doubles the number of statehouse journalists" by Christine Schmidt for NiemanLab, March 13, 2019

"Seven in ten newspapers in the U.S. did not have a statehouse reporter in 2014, a Pew analysis then found, and it’s quite conceivable that that number has only grown since. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of full-time statehouse reporters declined by 35 percent, with Illinois experiencing the strongest impact: losing seven full-time newspaper statehouse gigs in those 11 years. (Right as the state’s former governor was getting nailed on corruption charges, I might add.) That’s the same number of news organizations’ reporters in the Illinois statehouse press corps today, plus one from a conservative think tank."

"Collaborating at the Capitol: A new Illinois reporting service nearly doubles the number of statehouse journalists" by Christine Schmidt for NiemanLab, March 13, 2019

"Seven in ten newspapers in the U.S. did not have a statehouse reporter in 2014, a Pew analysis then found, and it’s quite conceivable that that... -->

Our View: As always, we find clouds, fog in Sunshine Week

"Our View: As always, we find clouds, fog in Sunshine Week" for The Fayetteville Observer, March 12, 2019

"We’re beginning to wonder how people will keep their government accountable as newsrooms continue to shrink and many newspapers go out of business. According to data compiled by the University of North Carolina, more than 1,400 cities and towns in the United States have lost a newspaper in the past 15 years, creating, in some places, “news deserts.” Other research shows that when there are no active news organizations tracking government’s decision-making, the cost of government tends to increase more rapidly and local officials are more likely to approve bigger contracts, higher wages and other expenditures that drive up the cost of government. Corruption gets easier too."

"Our View: As always, we find clouds, fog in Sunshine Week" for The Fayetteville Observer, March 12, 2019

"We’re beginning to wonder how people will keep their government accountable as newsrooms continue to shrink and many newspapers go out of business. According to data compiled by the University of... -->

North Carolina newspaper fights threat of “news deserts”

"North Carolina newspaper fights threat of 'news deserts'" by Madison Forsey for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

"The newspaper has historically been best suited to provide the individualized information that you may need in that community," Abernathy said. But with all the doom and gloom, Abernathy said one local paper is doing what it takes to evolve in the 21st century: The Whiteville News Reporter.

"North Carolina newspaper fights threat of 'news deserts'" by Madison Forsey for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

"The newspaper has historically been best suited to provide the individualized information that you may need in that community," Abernathy said. But with all the doom and gloom, Abernathy said one local... -->

Threat of “news deserts” in North Carolina is changing the media landscape

"Threat of "news deserts" in North Carolina is changing the media landscape" by Mary Glen Hatcher for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

“According to “The Expanding News Desert,” the situation in Whiteville is mirrored in roughly two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. that house the country’s remaining independent newspapers. These publications serve some of the most vulnerable members of society – rural, low-income residents who are often the most isolated, least educated, and least attractive to print advertisers.”

"Threat of "news deserts" in North Carolina is changing the media landscape" by Mary Glen Hatcher for Media Hub, Feb. 18, 2019

“According to “The Expanding News Desert,” the situation in Whiteville is mirrored in roughly two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. that house the country’s remaining independent newspapers.... -->

A hedge fund’s ‘mercenary’ strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings

"A hedge fund's 'mercenary' strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings" by Jonathan O'Connell and Emma Brown for The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2019

"At the dozen Digital First publications represented by the NewsGuild, the number of union jobs has declined nearly 70 percent, from 1,552 in 2012 to 487 in 2018. University of North Carolina researchers found, based on 12 newspapers, that Digital First has cut staff at a rate more than twice the national average during that time. "

"A hedge fund's 'mercenary' strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings" by Jonathan O'Connell and Emma Brown for The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2019

"At the dozen Digital First publications represented by the NewsGuild, the number of union jobs has declined nearly 70 percent, from 1,552 in 2012... -->

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