The Friday read: decline of local news reporting

newspapers1Courtesy of VA News, check out Charting the years-long decline of local news reporting from The Washington Post.

The slow deterioration of local-news reporting has been a source of alarm in some quarters for years, especially the retreat from state- and local-government accountability reporting. In 2009, a blue-ribbon panel backed by the nonprofit Knight Foundation warned of a “crisis” among “local journalistic institutions that have traditionally served democracy.” In a 2011 report, the Federal Communications Commission concluded, “The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism . . . is in some cases at risk at the local level.”

If I’m in a hurry, I will bypass the the national section of the paper and head straight for the Hampton Roads section. In fact, when I urge non-paper readers to start reading the paper, it is the local section that I always point them to.

We have many sources of national news. But local news? Much, much harder to come by.


7 thoughts on “The Friday read: decline of local news reporting

  1. I’m sort of torn on this one. So, we won’t know whats going on in our community if/when the Pilot goes under. At the same time, I read through the paper and so much of the local news reporting is so slanted and opinionated its hard to find anything objective. But again, if the Pilot was not there then the local govt would be even less accountable. I onl yread 5 articles a month since I do not have a paid subscription and generally those are the super local articles.

    1. I appreciate having even mediocre local news, I just always feel a little put-off when I pick up a physical copy of the Virginian pilot and the front page of each section is about 50% graphic design, 10% headlines, 10% sub-heads and pulled quotes, 10 percent infographic, and only 20% content. I always feel like I’m getting 10 ounces of Coca-Cola when I bought a two-liter bottle.

      1. Well, I think you’ve hit the mark there Silence. The way I see it the people who want to read the newspaper want to READ THE NEWSPAPER. That, unfortunately, is a dying breed. The papers, in an effort to get more “readers,” put eye candy in place of reading material. It does nothing to attract those who don’t want to read it in the first place, and repels those who do.

    2. I don’t see the Pilot as being biased – at least not in the sense that most think of bias – in its reporting, a charge I hear often. If there is bias, it is in WHAT they report. I would love to see more local reporting – especially accountability reporting. There’s plenty of fodder for that every day. And it might just wake folks up to the need to pay more attention.

      At the same time, I have to agree with Silence that the layout of the paper – heavy on graphics – off-putting. If graphics add to the story, that’s fine. But graphics for graphics sake is a waste of newsprint, IMHO.

  2. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the actual design of the newspapers effect on readership. I don’t mean the layout like Silence mentions, although that’s a great point, I mean the actual size and paper quality. I’ve never met anyone under 40 that enjoyed reading the news and also enjoyed the hassle of trying to read a physical newspaper.

    1. What an interesting thought. I check the NY Times and WaPo online every day, but the last physical paper I used to read five days a week was the Express when I lived in Washington, D.C.. Part of that was the distribution model–it finances exclusively on advertising and was handed out for free at metro stops as everyone makes his morning commute, so I never had to buy or go looking for it. But a huge part of its appeal was also the physical format: the paper was tabloid style rather than broadsheet. I never thought to ask why it came in that format, but it makes a lot of sense: when 90 people are crammed into a metro car and seated hip to hip, no one has the room to read a broadsheet without encroaching on his neighbor. And if you can’t get a seat, you can forget about trying to read a broadsheet while hanging on with one hand.

      I don’t think you can make that model work anywhere that doesn’t have a solid public transportation system with a high volume of daily commuter ridership, though. The tabloid style is a lot more convenient for the reader, but it necessarily limits the amount of content because it’s smaller. Which is fine if you can distribute them from a discrete number of central locations that everyone passes through each day, but if you have to tack on a delivery fee, your readership will drop of precipitously.

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