The News Leaders Project

Sustaining the Business of Local Journalism

The crisis in local news is indisputable: Round after round of layoffs, expanding news deserts and abandoned areas of coverage, particularly in the case of legacy print publications. Now, the challenges to local television news are beginning to accelerate.

The Great Recession of 2007-09 and a technological transformation in news delivery have combined to disrupt the business model for news organizations and their advertisers. That has set off a scramble -- some would say panic -- in search of solutions.

This research effort, the News Leaders Project at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, does not have all the answers. What it has are more than 50 5150 interviews about journalism with some of the industry’s finest thinkers. We talked to leaders representing television, radio, heritage legacy newspapers and digital-only start-ups in markets big and small. In these talks with Medill, they share eye-opening insights and bold innovations to help news organizations navigate through today’s choppy waters and deliver information to the American people.

This report is aimed at the news industry, academic researchers and the public, with the goal that all will better understand the challenges we face by listening to these expert voices.

We solicited input from a wide range of industry stakeholders, and many aspects of journalism are covered here. But this report puts a particular focus on regional and smaller markets, where many news organizations are especially vulnerable now.

As Vivian Schiller, CEO of the Civil Foundation, told us: “Local newspapers, or the institutions formerly known as newspapers, have gone out of business or shrunk to the point of almost uselessness in many parts of the country.”

Perhaps the most significant industry trend in recent years is a shift from reliance on advertising dollars to getting customers to pay directly for the product, especially through digital subscriptions and memberships. That trend has raised hopes for the survival of larger news outlets. While this could be a growing source of revenue, there are serious questions about whether smaller local news organizations can achieve enough scale to reach financial stability solely through a user pay model.. One piece of advice heard repeatedly in these interviews is to diversify revenue sources in this fluid environment. This report provides news executives with plenty of food for thought on that topic.

The Report

The report is organized into five categories, plus sidebars.

Local TV Disruption is Coming

We’re really always looking for new things, but not a shiny object. We want to make sure that if we are going to try a ...


The report is organized into five categories, plus sidebars.