Why should I invest in local news for my information? 

A question for the ages that has shaped how generations of Americans view news reporting revolves around a simple yet confounding notion: why should I pay for it? 

For some, the press is viewed as a watchdog against corrupt practices and stands as those who shine a light on illegal or immoral behavior so action against it can be pursued. 

To others, the press is a reviled group who often do what they can to garner clicks, mislead citizens based on their own priorities as well as advance what some have called “fake” news. 

In reality, local reporting provides information about a variety of important functions in a city and its staff as well as accurate, up-to-date information about what is happening in the community, though there have been some who have made mistakes to be sure. 

A recent Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OBVC) survey shows that here in Oregon, 65% of respondents said they follow news about local politics and neighborhood or community issues at least somewhat closely, and 75% of respondents said they trust the information that comes from local news organizations. 

Maintaining this trust is important as, according to the American Journalism Project, the loss of local news has a negative effect on our democratic institution, contributes to further political polarization as well as a lack of government accountability. 

Local news is essential in part from the benefits it provides communities through helping them understand what’s at stake in local elections, equipping them to get involved in the political process by voting, contacting and reporting on officials and those running for office, and holding public officials accountable

According to a recent Knight Foundation report, a healthy news and information ecosystem creates “a virtuous circle whereby improved information contributes to improved community outcomes.” 

Having access to local news provides many benefits, but it also staves off other issues, most importantly not having anywhere to reliably go to learn about what is happening in the community. 

A study from the American Economic Review suggested that a city losing access to local news often suffers a lowered electoral turnout as well. 

Newspaper closures are also associated with higher local taxes and lower government accountability, according to a 2020 report from the Journal of Financial Economics

A popular story on the west coast involves the corruption of city councilors in Bell, California and how Ruben Vives, a 31-year-old reporter for the Los Angeles Times, broke the story and unveiled the issues of embezzlement the city was dealing with.

Through reporting done on the city council in Bell, Vives uncovered and eventually, through his writing, helped prosecute the council members who had stolen hundreds of thousands from the city. 

Here in Keizer, many citizens may remember the reporting last year regarding the allegations against former McNary music teacher, Joshua Rist.

Rather than become defunct, similar to other businesses, a local paper can be brought out by a larger company such as Sinclair or Nexstar, two media conglomerates.

When this happens they may feature more content dictated by the  corporate headquarters rather than deeper, local reporting and overlook stories about human interest, scandal or salaciousness.

A recent Nieman Lab study about corporate media ownership displayed how, once an independent paper was acquired, the local content dropped significantly, and local coverage was concentrated on one or two narrow subjects and a majority of reporting became more nationalized. 

As important as escaping from the corporate ownership of news is, the focus on local events that local outlets have provides a boon to citizens who read it. 

Subscriptions to national outlets seem like a way to get all of one’s news needs, and while national outlets provide good information, a no-local news diet leaves large gaps in someone’s knowledge about where they live and things that much more directly affect them. 

Local news perspectives can often help citizens contextualize national issues better, such as COVID, and, according to another Knight Foundation report, “Local media helps provide the informational backbone of what people know about the social life in their city.” 

Local examples of helpful COVID coverage can be found in the pages of the Keizertimes in stories such as where to find COVID tests, outbreaks at a senior center here, what locals did in response to COVID and even the misreporting of COVID numbers.

The simple answer to why we should pay for our news revolves around balancing journalistic intent with running a business. As many can attest, working at any job can be difficult and deserves payment for the hard work. 

In the case of local news outlets, especially smaller ones, the job of accurately reporting on everything happening in a city is intensive work and that work is rewarded based on viewership. 

Unfortunately that viewership has lagged over recent years all around the country causing many outlets to fail and go away in a silent death, often with the city around it unaware. 

A recent Pew Research poll of Americans perceptions about local news shows that 71% of respondents perceived that their local news outlet was doing well financially, while only 14% of the same group reported having paid for local news in the last year. 

A 2023 Statista report shows that, in the last two years, 2022- 2023, more than 12,000 separate local news outlets have gone out of business in the U.S. 

More subscribers means more reporters who can earn more and are encouraged to happily work longer and harder. 

More well-paid reporters result in more well-told stories regarding local news as well as a well-informed citizenry who is hard to fool but easy to get along with. 

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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