Local news providers — from city newspapers to radio and TV stations — have faced multiple challenges in recent years, including declining revenues, shrinking newsrooms and shuttered titles. The disruption has led to some dire predictions about the sector’s ultimate fate.
But local news, according to a new UO School of Journalism and Communicaiton Agora Journalism Center report, has begun to innovate and adjust to its new realities.
The report, “Local journalism in the Pacific Northwest: Why It Matters, How It’s Evolving and Who Pays for It,” by the SOJC’s Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism Damian Radcliffe, addresses — through the lens of 10 outlets based in the Pacific Northwest — how local news providers are responding to challenges in the field.
“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to produce the first-ever research report for the Agora Journalism Center,” said Radcliffe.
The report features case studies and insights from new interviews with editors and journalists at a range of local outlets that serve urban and rural communities throughout Oregon and Washington and feature a variety of media ownership models:
- Large and small family-owned newspapers: The Seattle Times; Malheur Enterprise; The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington; The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon
- Smaller newspaper groups: Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon; The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon
- Pulitzer Prize-winning alt-weekly: Willamette Week
- “Mom and pop” weekly: Cottage Grove Sentinel
- Digital-only news provider: Seattle P-I
- Statewide TV and radio outlet: Oregon Public Broadcasting
Although each organization is different, as a group they face many of the same issues. “Local journalism in the Pacific Northwest” demonstrates how they are responding to the challenges — and opportunities — presented by digital disruption through experimentation with storytelling, emerging journalistic approaches and a variety of revenue models.
Radcliffe, who is also studying local news as a fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, has spent much of the past decade exploring the evolution of local media ecosystems in the United States and the United Kingdom. Based on his research, Radcliffe views the Pacific Northwest providers examined in this report as a microcosm of the United States’ wider local news industry, which is addressing similar fundamental strategic questions related to revenue, business models, as well as the use of digital platforms and their impact on the industry.
“This study shows that local media operators in the Pacific Northwest are not outliers,” he said. “Like their peers across the country, they are experimenting with new revenue models, different ways to tell stories and innovative ways to engage and reconnect with audiences. I see this report as a way they can share their lessons learned across the media and news sectors.”
Among other trends, the report reveals the emergence of concepts of “engagement” and “engaged journalism,” which lie at the heart of the Agora Journalism Center’s mission. The study finds that engaged journalism is already reshaping the way stories are told and the relationship between journalists and their audience.
The paper also explores:
- Why local journalism still matters
- The evolution of local journalism
- How local news providers are generating revenue
“By showcasing activity from across the region, alongside new insights from local industry leaders, I hope this report will inspire and inform journalists, policy makers, funders and J-schools in the Pacific Northwest and beyond,” Radcliffe said.
He also stressed his study’s importance for supporting the SOJC’s teaching needs.
“The insights from this study will further support our ongoing efforts to best prepare our students for the world of work by improving our understanding of what’s happening in our own backyard,” he said. “Local media organizations are often sources of internships and entry-level jobs for many of our students and recent graduates. And a better understanding of the evolving skills needs — and the wider business context — of these organizations will further enable us to double down on our goal of training the next generation of journalists and storytellers.”