Why local news matters nationally – The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily
One hundred and thirty-three years of editorial freedom
During just my second ENGLISH 322: Community Journalism class at the University of Michigan, my professor wrote the following phrase on the blackboard: “All news is local.” He then turned to the woefully small class and asked if anyone could explain what the phrase meant. A few students raised their hands to respond, and after calling on each one, my professor launched into his own explanation, telling us that the phrase is meant to express the importance of localizing news and issues — of making them meaningful to smaller, specific readerships. As it turns out, this phrase is not only helpful advice for aspiring journalists but also an important reminder for the general public as we face a new epidemic: the disappearance of local news outlets. 
American journalism as a whole has been suffering since the early 2000s. A report from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism found that the country has lost one-third of its newspapers (nearly 3,000) and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists since 2004. And, unfortunately, recent research indicates the industry isn’t catching a break any time soon
But local papers are taking the brunt of the hit. In 2023, two and a half local publications disappeared each week — a rate higher than just a year prior, when the U.S. lost two weekly. 
Given this alarming rate, it’s no surprise that more than half of U.S. counties have little to no access to a local news source, an unfortunate reality illustrated by this map from the Medill Local News Initiative. According to researchers from the Medill School, more than 200 counties are at risk of joining this majority. 
Countless counties across the U.S. have fallen victim to the loss of local news sources, and their absence has made one thing increasingly apparent: Local publications play a key role in both informing smaller communities and promoting civic engagement among community members — and they must be restored.
Local publications provide essential coverage of important community news. It has become common for events such as city council meetings to go uncovered in the absence of local news outlets, despite their importance to community members. And these meetings constitute only a mere fraction of events and issues community members deserve coverage on — coverage easiest to ensure by the presence of local news sources.
Local publications also promote civic engagement. A Pew Research Center study revealed that U.S. adults who consistently participated in local elections had “stronger local news habits” than those who didn’t. Results from the same study also suggest a positive correlation between an adult’s attachment to their community and interaction with local news outlets. Several articles detailing the benefits of local news outlets also reference interaction with local news and civic engagement. Some even go as far as to establish local news as essential to the success of democracy. Local publications, for example, provide readers with accurate content that covers a wide range of opinions — an incredibly important benefit in such a politically polarized climate. When these sources are no longer available, readers are not only less likely to receive this diverse coverage, but also more likely to rely on news from less credible sources or obtain and spread misinformation.
There is, however, the unfortunate possibility that local papers can encourage bias within smaller communities by reinforcing popular opinion, rather than challenging it. This introduces an important qualification to the case for local news: We must advocate for its presence as well as its quality. We must ensure the outlets we support and work to preserve are publishing accurate, diverse content adhering to ethical journalism practices.
Local newspapers can also benefit the communities they serve in other ways. They foster that distinct sense of community commonly associated with small towns, create content that reflects the unique cultural and ethnic aspects in specific areas and expose local and non-local readers alike to the diversity present in small-town America. Local newspapers can even stimulate local economies, as they make it easier for consumers to find nearby businesses through advertisements. 
Suffice it to say, local newspapers are important. Their disappearance is neither something to be taken lightly, nor is the matter of bringing this mass disappearance to an end. But what, exactly, is necessary to restore the state of local news? The answer to this question might be simpler than you think.
The most straightforward, and probably the most effective, method of protecting local news is to support the publications still currently open. Purchase subscriptions to local newspapers and encourage those you know to do the same. Donating to these papers — or organizations dedicated to helping the papers — can also be extremely beneficial. And, of course, even just engaging with local papers and publications is essential to ensuring their future. Read a few articles regularly and send the ones you like to friends. Every click helps.
According to Sarah Stonbely, director for the Medill School’s State of Local News Project, “We are at a moment of great loss but also great possibility for local journalism.” The state of local news in the U.S. is extremely dire, yes, but it is important not to be discouraged by this fact, and rather encouraged that there is an opportunity to salvage it. And luckily for the thousands of small communities constituting the U.S., solving it is very much attainable through support from readers like you. 
So, which local news outlet will you subscribe to today?
Rebecca Warber is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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