Quantcast
Connect with us

How local journalism can upend the ‘fake news’ narrative

Published

on

Local journalists are often the only journalists that most people will ever meet. teka12/Shutterstock.com

“For the first time media is the least trusted institution globally,” Edelman, the global PR and marketing firm concluded in its annual worldwide study on trust in institutions like the media, business and government.

These international findings are in line with recent data coming out of the U.S. A 2016 Gallup poll reported that just 32 percent of Americans trusted the mass media, while an Ipsos poll from summer 2018 found that nearly one-third of Americans agreed that the news media is the “enemy of the people.”

ADVERTISEMENT

How did it come to this?

First, it’s important to recognize that our national media, just like our politics, has become highly partisan.

Second, it’s necessary to acknowledge that existing media business models fuel this polarization. The drumbeat of an us-versus-them narrative has created what Tim Dixon, co-author of a new study titled “The Hidden Tribes of America,” calls a “cartoonish view of the other side.”

So what can be done to remedy this state of affairs?

Moving forward, I believe that local journalism – a key focus of my research and journalistic background – can play an important role in turning the tide and tackling this media malaise.

The trust factor

Traditionally, the most important function of the Fourth Estate has been seen as watchdog reporting – journalism that holds authority to account.

ADVERTISEMENT

But, this type of journalism is not exclusive to larger publications.

The impact and potential importance of these efforts at a local level can be seen each week in the “Local Matters” newsletter founded by the journalists Joey Cranney, Alexandra Glorioso and Brett Murphy.

It was also recognized last year when Art Cullen of The Storm Lake Times won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing. The twice-weekly newspaper in Iowa has nine-person staff and covers a town with a population of 10,000.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet Cullen beat fellow finalists from bigger papers – the Houston Chronicle and Washington Post – because he “successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa” in “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing.”

Research shows, however, that audiences don’t just want local news outlets to be watchdogs. They want them to be a “good neighbor” too.

ADVERTISEMENT

Local journalists are often the only journalists that most people will ever meet. So they play a significant role in how the wider profession is perceived.

For Caitlyn May, editor of the Cottage Grove Sentinel in Oregon, this means “it’s essential that journalists leave the office and go out into the community.” One way she does this is by holding a monthly, informal, “Meet the Editor” discussion at a local coffee shop.

Other outlets, such as the Dallas Morning News with their Curious Texas project, and KUOW Public Radio in Puget Sound, Washington, are partnering with a start-up called Hearken to encourage audiences to submit questions they want answered or suggest topics that they want local journalists to cover.

ADVERTISEMENT

Poynter’s 2018 Media Trust Survey identified that trust in local media is considerably higher than for national media. By blending watchdog reporting with community engagement, newsrooms can build on this foundation.

Local news on shaky ground

But what happens when local media disappears?

“Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished,” researchers at the University of North Carolina wrote in a recent report.

“In an age of fake news and divisive politics,” they added, “the fate of communities across the country – and of grassroots democracy itself – is linked to the vitality of local journalism.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Indeed, data suggests a correlation between consumption of local news and civic engagement. This reinforces earlier research linking local media consumption and “institutionalized participation.”

Put another way, if you consume local news, you’re more likely to vote, contact local officials and participate in other forms of civic and democratic engagement.

Although many local newsrooms are going through a period of reinvention and reinvigoration, the sector needs to be on a more even financial keel if it is to successfully move forward. Outlets have to consistently produce high quality work in order to demonstrate their unique value to communities.

This isn’t necessarily easy at a time when their are fewer journalists. Nearly half of all newsroom jobs – more than 20,000 of them – have disappeared in the past 20 years.

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent research has highlighted the potential impact of these cuts at the local level.

Data produced by Duke University found that “less than half of the news provided by local media outlets is original. Only 17 percent is “truly local” in the sense that it’s actually about events that have taken place within the city or town.

Journalism professor and researcher Jesse Holcomb has noted that local news outlets are still struggling to adapt to digital. He likens the internet to “an ill-fitting suit: functional, but not made for them.”

Holcomb’s analysis of 1,808 local news outlets revealed that less than half offer video content or newsletters. About one-in-10 local news outlets don’t even have a website.

The Expanding News Deserts report, published in October by journalism professor Penny Muse Abernathy, showed that 171 U.S. counties do not have a local newspaper at all.

ADVERTISEMENT

Nearly half all counties in the U.S.  –  1,449  –  have only one newspaper, and it’s usually a weekly. Their research identified a net loss of almost 1,800 local newspapers since 2004.

Diminished resources – which may, in turn, lead to a less ambitious editorial mission – can have a profound impact on the health of our communities and democracy.

Looking ahead

To succeed, local news providers must be relentlessly local and offer something different if they want people to pay for their product.

They also need to be more visible, embracing opportunities for real life engagement and consciously diversifying the range of people they interview.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to a 2006 study by Poindester et al. this means that investigative and watchdog reporting should appear alongside stories that demonstrate “caring about your community, highlighting interesting people and groups in the community, understanding the local community, and offering solutions to community problems.”

That way, local journalists act as a check on those in power and create an informed citizenry, while also fostering a sense of community.

And local journalists don’t just help communities make sense of the world around them. They’re also a proxy for the wider news industry.

It’s harder to believe that everything is “fake news” when the journalist you meet at back-to-school night, your kid’s football practice, or in the local coffee shop is not just your neighbor, but someone who is also reporting on important local stories that you know to be true.The Conversation

ADVERTISEMENT

Damian Radcliffe, Caroline S. Chambers Professor in Journalism, University of Oregon

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Michael Cohen says behind closed doors Trump is probably panicking: ‘He’s lost, he’s confused, he’s dazed’

Published

on

Speaking to MSNBC on Monday about the recent bombshell report about President Donald Trump's taxes, his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, explained that behind closed doors, Trump is likely panicking.

Sunday night, Cohen recalled a conversation in his book in which Trump got a $10 million refund from the IRS, which Trump mocked as "so stupid."

MSNBC host Katy Tur asked Cohen if Trump is inflating and deflating properties' size to either get more in loans or pay less in taxes. Cohen said that he anticipates it's something that the New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney are looking into. Complaints have already been filed against the Trump Organization for it.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

‘I hope you burn’: Man throws a racist fit after encountering interracial family’s Black Lives Matter sign

Published

on

While doing yard work last weekend, Malia and Jeff Zirkle of Washington state were accosted by a passerby who yelled, “Black lives don’t matter” and “I hope you burn," the Herald Net reports.

The couple shared surveillance video of the incident, which then went viral. The couple also has a Black Lives Matter sign visibly displayed on their front lawn.

“Eventually I realized that this is something that happens, and there are a lot of people who think it doesn’t happen,” said Malia Zirkle, whose father, according to the Herald Net, is half Black.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Conservative says Trump’s tax revelations show another reason he’s so terrified to leave office

Published

on

Conservative Washington Post writer Max Boot noted that the recent revelations about President Donald Trump's taxes expose the real reason that he's terrified to leave office.

Writing Monday, Boot began by admitting that Hillary Clinton was right all along. It's one of many things she warned of in the 2016 election that went ignored by the Republican Party and the majority of voters in Rust Belt states.

"He managed to pay no federal income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — and only $750 in 2016 and 2017 — by claiming vast losses from his business empire," Boot said, citing the New York Times report. "That $750 figure is a killer because it’s a number that middle-class Americans can understand. As a just-released Biden campaign ad points out, that’s far less than the taxes paid by the average teacher, nurse or firefighter."

Continue Reading
 
 
Democracy is in peril. Invest in progressive news. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1. Go ad-free. LEARN MORE