The crisis in local news is indisputable: round after round of layoffs, expanding news deserts and abandoned areas of coverage. In this major Medill Local News Initiative report, more than 50 influential people in the news business discuss the path forward.
We focus on the theoretical promise, and the actual difficulty, of embracing a financial model built around direct payments from readers and users. Can thinking of these people as members or subscribers lead to real, ongoing engagement, or the sort of lifetime habit that formerly characterized profitable mass media in America?
The increasingly familiar models adopted by public radio and the Texas Tribune are juxtaposed with interviewees’ increasing interest in philanthropic investment and a focus on specific niches where supply and demand can be carefully calibrated.
The interviews reveal a certain tension that has been created by perceived overuse of the word “innovation” without attention to context. No one denies that new ideas are central to navigating the present and the future, but how about creatively applying concepts that may have been around for more than a few months?
To fail to look past the obvious current struggles of local print organizations is to fail to understand what’s next for the medium where most Americans still say they get their local news. Sufficient money is still flowing in many local broadcast operations, but the slow pace of digital adoption in some places may augur poorly for the industry as pressure increases on revenue sources like retransmission fees.
This section’s title conveys a fundamental optimism that there still can be a future — in the right circumstances, with the right set of actions based on local-market discernment and careful attention to broader trends. Looking for simple answers? Don’t look here. Looking for a clear-eyed analysis of what still needs to be done? That crops up throughout.