An IPI Global Network Report on how local news media are rethinking everything in the digital age, and what they need now to sustain the vital journalism serving local communities around the world.
The 10 big takeaways…
1. Local news media is the most disrupted sector of the media, the most urgently in need of assistance — and the sector with the greatest potential to form the bedrock for a new, stronger media ecosystem. The digital transition is the opportunity to build sustainable media that better serve communities.
2. Wide-ranging innovation and experimentation is having a strong positive impact on local media and the transition infrastructure (grants, advice, networks) available to support it, but this is unevenly distributed and felt, particularly outside North America and Europe.
3. Successful local media have a clear sense of their mission, editorial vision and audience (or potential audience). This confidence is guiding a reimagining of journalism to meet the needs of their community. Local media both reflect and create their communities with a journalistic and business understanding of the intricacies of local culture and diversity by embedding in the community, by looking like the community, and by being their community’s champion in telling their stories to each other and the world.
4. Engagement of local communities needs to be embedded across the process chain, from design and editorial decision-making. Sustainability demands a continued demonstration of their value to their community, particularly to communities that have historically been excluded from mass media offerings. It requires a writing for, rather than about, communities, and building new audiences through an equity and inclusion lens.
5. The demand of engaged readership requires a new way of thinking about journalism. It requires a journalism of service that holds local institutions to account and provides difficult-to-access information as a service rather than a reporting for the record. Local media are differentiating themselves by taking the time to go deep rather than emulating the traditional model of fast coverage of spot news. Implicit in this is the idea of understanding the community and making trends/events/developments relevant to local audiences, including scaling national reports and data back to the relatable local size.
6. Local connectivity generates trust which makes local news media central in the battle against misinformation and disinformation by fact-checking, deep reporting and debunking disinformation/misinformation. Local media understand well they are working in a polluted news environment and use trust and truth to compete with “fake news”.
7. Local news media is naturally suited to pivot to reader revenues. Most new media have, or are experimenting with, membership models and diverse donation strategies, finding ways to centre their communities in their business model, leaving their content free to access. Traditional media in transition tend more to subscriptions and soft paywalls.
8. There is more room for experimentation with the local news product, including distribution, driven by a reassessment of the job journalism does for a community. There is no right or wrong model — nor one single best product. Local news media are finding ways to reach their audience where they are. As local media transitions online, opening access to new audiences, it can explore products that engage communities they may not have been served through traditional print.
9. Local media need to both meet and build demand. This means engaging the community (particularly communities traditionally excluded from media offerings) through building media literacy to encourage their communities to recognize what local media brings to the needs of their audience.
10. Not all communities can sustain the media they need at the local level — the communities that have the greatest need for local journalism that serves their needs. There are real limits to reader revenues in low-income and disadvantaged communities (which can also be less attractive for advertisers). This means looking to other sources such as the region’s diaspora, to local businesses as donors, and to philanthropy. In turn, the donor community should understand that long-term support for the basic news operations is needed and need to be prepared to sign up for the long term..
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