Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
The growing trend of news avoidance, loss of faith and search for usable news among consumers prompted the importance of local news during the post-pandemic ‘New-Normal’ world order. A Sunday editorial published in UK based The Guardian during the first week of March 2023 expressed concern about the disappearance of local print newspapers and termed the development as “bad news for democracy”.
News platforms, both print and digital, encourage people to exercise democratic rights. “They make people feel part of the society. They allow them to assess what they read in the context of their own experience, and encourage them to see news as a source of practical and helpful information, rather than a matter of theoretical discussion and emotional reaction.”
Hyper-local journalism is expected to act as one of the catalysts to change the problem of news avoidance in the post-Covid era. Small and medium print newspapers can improve the quality of products by employing local journalism. It will help them to collect subscribers, achieve faith through dealing with local people and contribute to social responsibility for the promotion of democracy
The editorial mentioned that during the decade between 2009 and 2019, about 320 local print newspapers were closed in the UK. Advertising revenue fell by 70 percent during the period. “There are probably fewer local newspapers in Britain than at any time since the 18th century,” the editorial added, “This is a global problem. Newspapers in the US are closing at the rate of two a week.”
The disappearance of local print newspapers keeps away an increasing number of talents, both professional and freelancers, from the practice of reporting the news. On one hand, it results in a decrease in qualitative journalism. On the other hand, creates a fertile field for the spread of misinformation along with information through social media. The media environment poses hindrance to the fair practice of democracy.
Dissemination of hyper-local news through traditional print newspapers and social media marks a few fundamental differences. First, print newspapers are produced by professional reporters and editors. The system offers several gatekeepers to check and re-check facts to undergo a process of selection of the content for publication. Journalists purposefully build up relationships with functionaries of government and non-government organizations to collect facts. But, as social media posts are generated and circulated by common people, they lack such facilities.
Secondly, print newspapers cover the opinions of various parties in the process of reporting a controversy. It creates an opportunity for the readers to examine various factors to develop their own perspectives. But, technological tools like the use of algorithms to select posts according to the person’s recorded interest and san opposing views in social media. Such a mechanism of filtration and the opportunities to boost publication through exchange of advertising revenue by interested parties turn consumers’ digital screens into mere echo chambers. Political behavior of voters due to the influence of social media leading to polarization was clearly marked in elections in the USA. UK, France, Germany, and Brazil during the recent past.
Thirdly, research findings reveal that the absence of local print newspapers slows down the efficiency of civic administration. The impact of the local digital news websites in the field does not match the impact of the local print newspapers. People’s lives solely depend on local conditions. Amenities like water and energy supply, sanitation, roads, and security are controlled by the local civic administration. Problems arising in such factors directly affect the daily lives in the neighborhood. Coverage of such shortcomings in print local newspapers generates discussion in the communities and attracts the attention of the officials responsible for the maintenance of such facilities mostly due to the relative performance of printed words in the paper in comparison to digital screens.
However, when the mainstream print newspapers start attaching themselves to the practice of misinformation, and partiality and publish the opposite picture of the shortcomings of the administration for various compulsions, the quality of reportage overcomes the nuisance of the coverage in social media. It is an irony that though human civilization and technological development reached greater heights during the beginning of the third decade of the 21st Century, many nations worldwide confront such situations.’
The disappearance of local print newspapers keeps away an increasing number of talents, both professional and freelancers, from the practice of reporting the news. In the one hand, it results in a decrease in qualitative journalism. On the other hand, creates a fertile field for the spread of misinformation along with information through social media. The media environment poses a hindrance to the fair practice of democracy.
The Guardian editorial accused the prevailing newspaper ownership pattern reduction in the number of local print newspapers. In the UK two-thirds of newspapers are owned by three big publishers. They fail to match the concern for communities exhibited in the case of traditional independent newspaper publishing houses. As a result, the quality of local news coverage decreases. Big publishers fix their objectives on profit from the newspaper business and lack concern towards a people-centric approach. It ultimately contributes negatively for democratic values.
It is important to note that ownership of local print newspapers by independent publishers promotes the participation of people in solving local issues. Similarly, the involvement of common citizens on collection and dissemination results in better local news coverage. Following the growth of the online news environment, in addition to professionals and freelancers, a new group of reporters identified as ‘citizen journalists’ become active in reporting sphere of local journalism. It has become an absolute necessity for the print local newspapers to procure the service of citizen journalists for coverage of hyper-local news.
Modern citizen journalism developed as a dominant category in the emerging news industry. A section of mainstream print newspapers gradually entertained the service of citizen journalists to gather hyper-local news. However, from the earliest days of journalism, the practice of engaging common people to collect news for print newspapers was prevalent. The use of technological innovations in modern times may be marked as the only difference.
Citizen journalists (i) gather news in a geographic boundary, (ii) such reporting is original, which is opposite of the press-release based journalism and (iii) usually issues and developments which are not covered by the mainstream news platforms are picked up by the citizen journalists. They prefer to cover (i) ‘soft news’ instead of ‘hard news’. For example, citizen journalists prefer to cover daily lives of common people instead of theft or accidents. (ii) Citizen journalists report news based on their own inquiry and experience as they do not have access to police or other government officials. (iii) Most news stories developed by citizen journalists depend upon a single source, unlike the coverage of multiple sources practiced by professional journalists.
Hyper-local journalism is expected to act as one of the catalysts to change the problem of news avoidance in the post-Covid era. Small and medium print newspapers can improve the quality of products by employing local journalism. It will help them to collect subscribers, achieve faith through dealing with local people and contribute to social responsibility for the promotion of democracy. Further, confront to meet the rise in production cost, competition of coverage by social media, and uncertain business future.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on March 10, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-292
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
The Guardian view on local journalism’s decline : Bad news for democracy / Editorial / The Guardian / 5 Mar 2023
Dheer, Evelien and Steve Paulusen. The use of citizen journalism for hyper local news production