In the wake of the 2016 US election, there’s been a lot of soul-searching about the state of the news media. Do facts exist, what’s fake news, how did we get here, what can we do now? That sort of thing. Some of this introspection touches on a topic I’ve studied for 10+ years: the shape of local news in the face of digital media competition. Given all the excitement, I thought I’d post a quick update on my work (not something I frequently do, apparently)…
First, I have written (and published) several recent pieces that relate to local news use. Working with a colleague from Norway – Eiri Elvestad – I conducted a comparative analysis of changing news use patterns over the past twenty years in the US and Norway. In short, we were interested in understanding if the avalanche of new media choices in both countries that grew with the internet caused people to pay more/less attention to local, national, or international news — and if the changes over time differed for citizens in different political/social contexts. This piece, Media Choice Proliferation and Shifting Orientations Towards News in the United States and Norway, 1995-2012, will be published in the Nordicom Review and shows that attention to local news is a particular loser in the transition from analog to digital media. The patterns of change diverge between the US and Norway in some interesting ways, however, which suggests that a strong civic culture (such as Norway’s) can moderate changes in the relationship between audience/news that technology facilitates.
I’ve also published a pair of other, shorter pieces that deal more directly with the idea that citizens’ values (and culture) critically shape their news usage. First, I wrote an entry for the Oxford Bibliographies on Civic Duty. The idea of a ‘civic duty’ comes largely from political science research and was originally sketched out by scholars trying to understand why people vote. I think that civic duty — along with other, related feelings like community attachment — are important psychological precursors that relate to many civic/political behaviors including news use. These orientations are shaped by many forces of political socialization – family, school, media, etc. – and they should be considered as modern news products are conceptualized, designed, and marketed. Figuring out the right way to position news — which is today seen as optional by so many Americans — is a really important challenge for news producers of the future. Along those lines, I wrote an essay for Media Development called Who Loves Local News? about the right way to produce local news for young audiences. My short, perhaps counterintuitive, take is that local news orgs are more likely to find success by appealing to Gen Z’s heart, not their head.
Meanwhile, I’ve also done a bunch of media over the past few months. The Atlantic had a lengthy piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s take on the news that featured my research; this, in turn, led to 20 minutes on a local radio show in New Orleans. My take was featured in a recent Nieman Journalism Lab article on dead newspapers. And, last but not least, I did a few minutes live on Al Jazeera – also talking about the decline of local newspapers. For your viewing pleasure, here’s the whole package: