Thought Leadership

The Future of Local News: Amid an Ever-Evolving Media Landscape, Audiences Still Value and Trust Their Local Sources of News and Information

March 24, 2022
Rob Beaird

The Future of Local News: Amid an Ever-Evolving Media Landscape, Audiences Still Value and Trust Their Local Sources of News and Information

In a recent 60 Minutes segment, correspondent John Wertheim reported on the decline of the newspaper industry. Among the factors behind this trend are the loss of advertising revenue and fewer Americans getting their news from their local papers. While the channels and outlets to reach local markets are changing daily, local audience reach is still attainable – with the right relationships and connections.

One reporter interviewed for the segment reminded viewers about the importance of local journalism. “It reminds us all about shared experiences,” said Evan Brandt, of The Mercury in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. “You know who died, you know who graduated from high school. You know whose kid had a great game. You know those are all important elements about holding people together.”

Brandt’s insights capture just how important local news outlets are to the communities they serve, particularly in promoting cohesion – something local news readers crave.

The Shift in Local Markets

As traditional local media outlets struggle with layoffs and shrinking audiences, entrepreneurial journalists are utilizing non-traditional sources to provide readers with news content that can be trusted. These journalists analyze and determine the value of information they receive from local influencers, podcasters, bloggers, newsletters, and other sources to develop credible stories.

At the same time, remote work has become more mainstream, and many reporters have left global media cities to explore opportunities within local markets across the U.S. and create their own content on localized platforms. This includes Patch, the hyperlocal digital news company which built a software platform called “Patch Labs” that allows local news reporters to publish their own newsletters and websites. States Newsroom, a network of local nonprofit news outlets, is expanding to about 40 states over the next few years.

Understanding Non-Traditional Outlets

Amid the shifting dynamics in local media markets, knowing which non-traditional outlets are influencing local readers’ opinions is key. Along with platforms like Patch and States Newsrooms, other non-traditional outlets worth noting within local markets are:

·        College and university newspapers

·        Faith-based newsletters

·        Local elected officials’ newsletters

·        Chamber of Commerce and business association membership publications

·        Community social apps, such as Next door, One Roof and Eventbrite

·        Podcasts

During the pandemic, several college media outlets were calling out their universities for failing to address the potentially devastating communal spread of COVID-19. College students weren’t the only readers who relied on these publications for information. Many residents of these college towns also turned to university newspapers for news related to coronavirus because their local newspapers didn’t have the staff or the budget to thoroughly cover the local impact of the pandemic.  

How DI is Bridging that Gap

According to a study from Vox Media and Nielsen, 38% of local news site visitors do not visit any national news sites, reinforcing the importance of local journalism.

For over 30years, Direct Impact (DI) has cultivated countless relationships among journalists and influencers across priority markets for our clients. Our national grassroots model, which includes a network of more than 1,000 local experts, helps us reach audiences through non-traditional outlets. Additionally, our Earned-Plus approach that combines human intelligence with the science of data and technology helps amplify visibility around a particular story and its reach within local markets. By combining traditional public relations with on-the-ground grassroots activation, paid media, brand research and strategy, and data analytics, we can deliver impactful, targeted messages that help meaningfully shape the local narrative.

With editorial staffs shrinking, most journalists are now being paid per click. Therefore, a story that is interesting and of great local importance can help drive coverage – especially if an outlet can be first in breaking that story in print, digitally and on social media.

There is much speculation about the changing dynamics within the local media market. As the journalists interviewed in the 60 Minutes piece acknowledged, most Americans trust local news outlets more than the national media. David Jackson, a reporter for The Better Government Association, a nonprofit newsroom in Chicago, said, “I work with a lot of young people, and I tell them that we’re leaving them with a smashed and broken system that they’re going to have to reinvent because it’s necessary. Journalism is necessary for the survival of American democracy.”

As experts in local media trends, DI has a front row seat to the evolution underway in markets across the country and what the rise in non-traditional outlets will mean for local news coverage and consumption in the future. Let us help you navigate this ever-changing landscape and the right approach to ensure your story will resonate among local audiences.

Rob Beaird is a senior project manager at Direct Impact, specializing in communications, public relations, and influencer outreach. Rob’s previous career as a broadcast journalist has played a role in building strong relationships with media across the country. As a journalist, Rob received the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Award, as well as honors from the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association.

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