Connecting community to citizen: How local news outlets can build community and save national media

newspaper, local news

By Meg Jones

With so many news sources and voices speaking over one another, it is difficult to clear your mind long enough to evaluate the quality of a media piece. Statements from radical actors can appear as inconspicuous opinion articles. A false representation of a candidate may be created and promoted by an opponent through social media and television campaigns. It seems as if with every new word we read, we drive one more wedge between ourselves and our fellow human beings.

According to a recent study, public trust in media and journalism sources is declining across Latin America. This study also revealed that, when surveyed, close to 50% of individuals across the region believe that there is “very little” press freedom within their countries. In another study from the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism, researchers found that “in an age of fake news and divisive politics […] the fate of communities across the country […] is linked to the vitality of local journalism.”

But just what role does local journalism play in maintaining a strong sense of community?

Your neighbor’s news story

Local media sources are unique in their ability to produce both watchdog reporting and socially conscious content about community interactions and events. It makes sense, then, that local media would seem so trustworthy, as its content comes from those whose are known not just as reporters, but as people who share your community with you — friends, neighbors and even fellow customers of your favorite local coffee shop.

The publication of local news stories also encourages a sense of community by creating unity. Local journalism and media sources focus on the topics most related to your town, not those pertaining to the country as a whole. By discussing issues most relevant to a community, local news outlets create a greater sense of interconnectedness and a unique opportunity to unify people with similar opinions and interests.

Straight from the source

According to an essay from The Pulitzer Prizes, big media sources often get their information from smaller, more local news sources because they are closer to the action. In other words, local media works because it is widely seen as the most trustworthy way to get news due its proximity to the issues at hand and its understanding of community dynamics. Additionally, local news sources are often the places where trends are covered before they become nationally popular, making them important informants for proactive national news media.

Without an emphasis on the importance of independent local news outlets, they are easily absorbed by big media companies. But the dissolution of these smaller, community-based sources means chaos for big-brand media. Local media is connected with its community’s dynamics, relationships and values — context that is necessary for an accurate depiction in a news story. Without this insight that only local sources can provide, national news sources risk creating misleading stories and encouraging the spread of misinformed media. In terms of awareness of trends, national outlets without local informants will often hear of news when it is no longer new, relevant or helpful.

The greater good

When citizens read and engage with local news sources, they are more likely to participate in forms of “civic and democratic engagement.” Newspapers and other media sources hold their readers accountable, too. “In crises,” a 2008 UNESCO article reads, “citizens reporting like journalists may be the only way for human rights abuses and other violations of criminal or environmental nature to be brought to face public scrutiny.” In other words, community media sources encourage their readers to speak up, to think critically about the content in sources and to actively participate in content creation.

A call to action

Local news outlets face increased pressure as society makes more and more technological progress. But while getting news from social media and other virtual platforms may be more convenient, individuals often approach online news sources with greater skepticism. Distrust in media could quickly turn into distrust in institutions and society as a whole. How can readers ensure that local news remains a top priority?

Read stories from your community’s media outlets!

The best way to support local media is to engage with local media. Reading stories released by local outlets and watching your community news station’s reports not only allows you to be more aware of what is going on in your town but also leads to higher viewership and continued support, both of which are vital for outlets to continue to survive financially.

Share local stories!

Reading the news yourself is incredibly important, but making others aware of local media outlets’ content means greater visibility for stations and publishers. The more viewers or readers a local source has, the more likely it will be seen as an asset to the community and nation as a whole, and thus it will not be replaced by larger news sources.

Make a financial contribution!

Some news outlets, especially newspapers, offer a subscription service for readers to receive weekly newspapers delivered to their homes, consistent access to online stories and other benefits. Most subscriptions are relatively inexpensive and provide a variety of options and price ranges depending upon the type of news (digital, paper, etc.) you wish to receive. Subscribing to your local news source is an easy way to both keep up to date with new stories and ensure that newspapers and broadcasts can continue.

Media is incredibly important in forming an informed, supportive community. But without legitimate sources, fostering these relationships and seizing these opportunities would be incredibly difficult. Through the rise of a media-literate population, communities will grow, prosper, and shift in ways never expected before.

Meg Jones is a freshman at the College of William & Mary studying sociology and Hispanic studies.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government. 

Este artículo está disponible en español.