People Say Parting With Local Newspapers Not So Sorrowful

March 16, 2009 07:30 AM
by Rachel Balik
In a recent Pew Research Center study, roughly a third of people polled said they would miss their local newspaper if it folded, but most would rather watch TV.

Local News Is Yesterday’s News for Most People

The media may be watching the end of print journalism like a hawk, but only one-third of people polled by the Pew Research Center said they would be personally saddened if their local newspaper shut down. A slightly larger number of people, 43 percent, said that the loss of a local newspaper would be a detriment to the community. The study also reported the data for a group of people who said they read the local newspaper regularly. Even in that group, only 56 percent said the loss would harm the community and 55 percent said that they would personally miss the paper “a lot.”

Among the younger crowd (18–39 year olds), there were even fewer people who reported that they would miss reading the paper: 23 percent. But they did acknowledge the community loss in numbers similar to the entire group. 41 percent said it would be a loss, compared with 43 percent of the group at large.

The explanation may be that people rely on other sources for news. Only three out of every 10 expressed that they were dependent on the local paper for local news. One woman polled said that a local paper was a way to learn about neighbors, but the study found that the things people care the most about tend to be big, national issues. Furthermore, two-thirds of people get their news from television.

One thing that people care greatly about is the economic crisis and the downfall of newspapers. Although people say they won’t be personally affected, more than half of people said they had heard a great deal about the failing industry.

But the crisis experienced by newspapers is not simply a product of the economic crisis, argues Chad Rubel of news site BuzzFlash. Newspapers have been managed badly, borrowed too much money and simply failed to adapt to the times. Certain casualties of the recession, such as Circuit City, may be easily forgotten, Rubel suggests. But having newspapers is an essential right, and if the current town papers fail to adapt, new methods of news sharing will crop up to take their place. The challenge is to develop a model that will earn money.

Background: What is the future of investigative journalism?

Many major newspapers are on the verge of closure or facing serious financial crisis. The crisis is over for the Rocky Mountain News, which printed its last issue in February. However, some former members of the paper’s staff have started a blog to replace the paper.

But without revenue-driven newspapers, many worry that there will no way to fund the kind of hard-driving, informed journalism that readers expect. One answer to this problem has been the introduction of citizen journalists. The cell phone camera-wielding public can pick up some of the slack, but professionals argue that society runs the risk of losing access to important information if money sources for investigative journalism go dry.

Related Topic: Shifting Identity of Journalism School

Columbia University Journalism School was once considered the premier journalism school in New York and one of the best in the country. Today, it is considered lacking in the area of digital media training, and as such, is putting its students at a disadvantage. The new dean of academic affairs, Bill Grueskin, is implementing more classes that train students in new media skills, but many of the professors insist that new media is not important, and that the core skills of reporting and journalism should continue to be the staples of the curriculum. Of course, a greater logistical problem for the school is that tenured professors are older and not familiar with new media skills.

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