Local newspapers have always been a relied-upon source for citizens, playing a complex role in the civic life of American communities. According to the 2012 State of the News Media report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, newspaper circulation is dropping while the number of people reading news on mobile devices is on the rise.
The newspaper industry is still struggling to adapt financially, while digital platform providers are continuing to gain a grip on advertising. All other news media is growing, including TV news. “When circulation and advertising revenue are combined, the newspaper industry has shrunk 43% since 2000,” according to the report, which the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) published in March.
“The civic implications of the decline in newspapers are also becoming clearer. More evidence emerged that newspapers (whether accessed in print or digitally) are the primary source people turn to for news about government and civic affairs. If these operations continue to shrivel or disappear, it is unclear where, or whether, that information would be reported,” the PEJ found.
Moreover, the predicted growth in mobile access to news continued in 2011 with more than a quarter of U.S. citizens now getting their news on their mobile devices. Those who are accessing the news in this fashion spend more time with the publication, and return more frequently than they do on computers.
It seems that devices and social media are extending news organizations’ reach deeper into our lives. So are mobile devices helping us become even more connected to our communities? Will a void be felt should the newspaper disappear?
As traditional news outlets are shrinking, innovative community news sites are also becoming a more viable source of news. Readership is currently not large, but time suggests that will change, through the increasing number of partnerships with larger news operations and through demographics.
At the hyperlocal level, sites are making up for what they lack in size by sharing knowledge. Recently, owners of 45 sites launched a national organization called Authentically Local in order to highlight their local roots in the face of competitors. Likewise, local niche sites focusing on a single topic of interest will become a trend, according to the report, focusing on education, government, and healthcare.
Journalism schools are becoming a larger part of local digital news as well. More and more college journalism program are launching hyperlocal sites to provide real-world training for their students and to serve neighboring communities. Those such as Intersections South LA in Los Angeles are representing previously under-covered areas.
Niche sites gaining popularity include sites as thenotebook.org, which focuses on public education in Philadelphia. Health News Florida highlights health issues and policy in the state and is a member of the Investigative News Network, a national consortium of nonprofit news sites started in 2009.