Report: Most Americans unaware of local news crisis

By Brandi Makuski

Most Americans believe the news industry is thriving, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

It’s not.

According to Business Insider, about 7,800 journalism jobs have been eliminated across the United States in 2019—some 3,000 in the first five months alone. The cuts hit large corporations and small companies alike, though larger organizations, like CNN, Verizon Media, HuffPost, and Gannett, fill the gap by combining resources and regionalizing news collection efforts. But smaller, independent community news outlets don’t have that ability.

In 2016, about a dozen trained journalists from numerous publications were assigned to covering the Stevens Point/Plover area and surrounding communities on a daily basis. Today, the number of reporters covering the area daily is fewer than five.

Under the Pew report, 39 percent of local adults in the Central Wisconsin region prefer their news via television, and 22 percent by way of a news website or app, while 17 percent still prefer print. Of the adults who read local news daily, 26 percent use social media and 24 percent use news websites. About 52 percent of all news consumers obtain their news from a mobile device, the report said.

For more than 200 years, local news outlets have covered a variety of topics to help communities across the country stay informed. From local government to new business to traffic accidents, local reporters work tirelessly to keep the public in touch with their communities. It serves as a shared, unifying experience that provides the same basic information to everyone in a community, binding it together.

Local news has always been funded by a mix of advertising and subscription dollars. Advertising revenue is now largely digital, comprising about half of all advertising revenue in the United States. But instead of going to publishers, 40 percent of all those advertising dollars, once relied on by local news outlets, go directly to Facebook ads, with 12 percent being spent on Google.

It means local news outlets have to compete with Facebook and Google using about half the revenue, and that puts local publishers in a tough spot because readers might not believe their subscription dollars are truly needed. According to the Pew survey, “seven-in-ten say their local news media are doing either somewhat or very well financially.” Only about 24 percent of the 34,000 people surveyed believed their local news organizations were not doing well.

Despite the majority believing local news was thriving, most of the people who responded to the poll said they didn’t pay for news. “When asked if they had paid or given money in the past year to any local news source–by either subscribing, donating, or becoming a member–84 percent of Americans said no; 14 percent said yes,” the survey reads in part.

The results are ironic: the majority believe local news outlets are doing well financially, yet they themselves do not support it.

So what happens when newsrooms are gutted by layoffs, or eliminated entirely as a cost-cutting measure? City council and school board meetings. Crime. Small-town politics. Local government corruption. They all go unreported or underreported where journalism doesn’t thrive.

You can find the entire Pew study here.

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