Study: Local news in small communities is suffering

Media outlets in “news deserts” lack originality, geographic relevance and critical information, according to Duke University research.

 

Assessing Local Journalism: New Deserts, Journalism Divides, and the Determinants of the Robustness of Local News
Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy
By Philip M. Napoli, Matthew Weber, Katie Mccollough and Qun Wang
August 2018

The News Co/Lab’s recent survey showed Americans have more positive views of local news than national outlets, providing news organizations an opportunity to build a strong relationship their audience. But the journalism industry’s failing economic model limits newsrooms’ ability to provide their communities with the information they need, according to a new Duke University study.

The study explores the wide-ranging consequences of underfunded local journalism, and how the issue may disproportionately affect communities based on geographic or demographic characteristics. Researchers rated content on whether the story was original, about the local community and addressed critical information.

Researchers determined only 17 percent of stories from the sample communities were about the local community. Less than half (44 percent) of the stories were original, and 56 percent contained critical information. Only 11 percent of content incorporated all three elements, emphasizing how the economic strain on local journalism creates news deserts in small communities.

Key Numbers

  • 17 percent of stories from the sampled outlets were about the local community, 44 percent were original, and 56 percent contained critical information.
  • 11 percent of content included originality, geographic relevance and critical information.
  • Of the 100 communities sampled, eight produced no news stories. Four of those eight communities had no media outlets.

Study Details

  • Researchers used U.S. Census dated to obtain a list of 493 communities with populations ranging from 20,000 to 300,000. One hundred communities were randomly selected from this list to be included in the study.
  • The study included local television, radio, online and print news outlets.
  • Duke created a record of local news in the 100 communities containing 1.6 million documents — 2.2 terabytes of data — and an archive of more than 16,000 news stories.
  • Local news outlets in the study were observed for two months, between July and September of 2016.