Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hometown News, Why it Matters

By Jason Smith, PhD student in Public Sociology, George Mason University. His thesis work dealt with colorblind and color-conscious ideology in contemporary Hollywood films. Overarching research interests are issues of race/ethnicity, media representation, and media policy.

Why is it so hard to have an informed citizenry in the US?  Long championed as pivotal to the functioning of the public sphere, news media (and the field of journalism in general) serve communities in their need to know the current state of affairs.  Yet local news media is in a state of flux.  At worst the number of newspapers covering local events are increasingly on the decline, and at best new websites offering local coverage are sporadic and struggle to maintain their operations. 
If you take a look at the news media you find two big issues.  First, its in TROUBLE.  Meaning that supporting “good” journalism is hard to do without funds to pay reporters and invest in resources.  Second, its becoming a new medium for entertainment-type content.  Whereby the contributions of journalism as a field are continually being diminished as they become more catered to “infotainment” practices.
To bring this into better perspective, it was recently reported that parent-company Comcast has been pressuring CNBC to make budget cuts which would impact programming.
Although this is a muddled story, the role of advertising and entertainment on news production can be seen in a recent example by Nikki Usher looking at news blogs serving the LGBT communities.  As she comments, it would seem logical for advertisers to support online gay news sites (since the gay community has been specifically targeted in the past by advertisers), but this often is not the case: instead these sites are too politically and culturally specific in their content and are not “entertainment-focused enough” to entice advertisers to invest in them.  As Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism stated in their annual State of the Media report, “no one has yet cracked the code for how to produce local news effectively at a sustainable level.”
This brings up an interesting question: Can local news exist in the current economic environment? 
Or perhaps we should ask: Does local news even matter?
I believe that by answering the second question it can inform how we approach the first, and by doing so, make a case for the value and need to invest in local news. 
In a classic study by sociologist Morris Janowitz from the early 1950s on the role of the community press in an urban setting, he focused on communication being both product and shaper of its social environment - a reflection and determinate of social attitudes and interaction.  Community presses served neighborhood residents and their leaders as ways to inform and build social bonds.  But the most important aspect of these presses in Janowitz’s study was that agency held larger preference over structure – meaning that communities had the ability to act as “political organs” in relation to outside institutions.
Local news media are vital to community and shared consensus.  Although the ability to actively fund and sustain them is a current work in progress for those invested in news media production, many alternatives exist.  But in order to maintain a call for (re)investing in local news, it requires us to discover that it operates as a part of establishing a sociological imagination for individuals and collective groups – the ability to link personal concerns to the larger concerns of groups.


  1. The fact that the question "does local news even matter?" is being asked, is just sad. I personally enjoy reading and watching the local news because it gives me a sense of what is happening directly around me. Yes it is important to understand what is happening in the bigger picture, across the world, but it is also important to know what is happening in your own backyard. This article makes it seem like people don't care to know what is happening in their backyard, and thats not right. Like the article says, it links the personal concerns to the larger concerns of groups, and if local news stopped, this connection would be gone, or harder to make.

  2. The new is a very important part of some people's lives, the news keeps them informed with what is going on in the world. People who do not like the news I feel like they are living in their own world and live in a bubble. This article is somewhat making it out to sound like the news is not important and a lot of people are intersted with what is going on anymore. I enjoy the news for speific things. A lot of people do not like the news but I believe that without the news people are didconnectd from the world.

  3. It is sad that our society has come to this. YES local news does matter. How are you supposed to know what's going on in your town if you don't have the local news. World news is a whole different aspect of news itself. Without local news stations residents of that area would be disconnected with events and happenings of what is going around them locally. Just because local news may not be viewed as important to some people it still is an important news outlet and should not at all be entirely cut from our lives.

  4. I find it pretty ironic that in a world where we are so connected to the everything around us with the internet always at our fingertips and where people constantly use google to answer their everyday questions, that we are starting to lose interest in information that affects us the most, our local news. The news is one of the easiest ways to be a informed citizen, if it is so easily available as it is today i feel like we should feel obligated to use the news as citizens. But it may also be that because it is now so available to us that we are taking it for granted.

  5. Coming from a very small, urban community myself, I understand that there is not very much “entertaining” news to go around. However, the local news from the small town in which I grew up served many purposes. Our town paper aided in spreading news about the annual midnight madness sale at the small department store in the town center, the state championship won by the high school boys basketball team, and even the retirement of the beloved high school history teacher who had enriched students’ minds for 35 years. These news articles are not “national news” material, but they allowed for the small community in which I lived to have a strong sense of social bonding. Doctor Jason Smith opened my eyes with his question “Does local news even matter?” because I believe that this small interaction leads to a larger spread of knowledge. I think it is very important to have local news because this is the starting page from which we can write the country’s story.

  6. For additional reading...

    Buffett on Newspapers: "Enormously Useful Product"
    by: Steve Jordon | Omaha World-Herald

  7. I have always been a fan of local news ever since I was a kid growing up. My enthusiasm for local news picked up though when I played high school sports and the local media and newpapers always covered my high school games and the coverage was awesome and in a way made me feel like a local celebrity. To think that other high school athletes are not going to receive the same privilege I once did in high school is indeed quite sad. It is tragic that due to the current economic status our country is facing, the interest in knowing what is going on in our perspective communiuties has decreased. I have always taken an interest in local news and I think it is very important. I hope one day this trend will reverse. All in all this article was very interesting article but also quite saddening.
    Pat Jenkins Intro to Sociology

  8. I believe that in this day and age more people would rather watch national news rather than local news. In fact, I think that many people find local news boring and depressing. These people stay connected by talking to each other. They know enough about each other that they don't feel the need to go home and watch it on the news. Due to the lack of viewers local news channels have tried to make the news more interesting by focusing all of their stories on murder and crime. They believe that if they talk about murder the news will be less boring thus attracting more local viewers. However, I just think that people are inclined to watch national news which is more interesting and in many ways still has “the ability to link personal concerns to the larger concerns of groups.” By reporting local murders and crimes they are in no way linking social concerns.

  9. Does local news even matter? Of course it matters. It directly impacts you because it’s your community. I enjoy knowing what’s happening around me even if it’s just about high school sports. People shouldn’t only be concerned about what’s going on in the big picture, its good to know what is going on around you. There would be less of a connection between you and your community if local news was stopped. There should always be local news, and this article sounds like we should be without it. People are so use to having everything they want to know on the Internet that maybe to them the local news seems unimportant.

  10. Yes, of course, local news matters. I'm sure we can all agree on that. But the most important issue at hand is what truly qualifies as news. Local stations need to step back and analyze what they are focusing their (often limited) resources towards. It seems that with each passing broadcast, news stations focus more on entertainment and shock value, all while forgetting about the pressing issues of the political, economic, and global spheres. It brings to mind a tweet that I read by comedian Jim Gaffigan, where he wrote "I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the media for covering “Dancing with the Stars” like it’s news." On the surface this is a great joke, but it is covering the underlying issue of the media's responsibility to its viewers. It is a vicious cycle, where uneducated people don't want to see politics and economic problems all over their news, but by not showing these informative segments we are creating another generation of apathetic voters, consumers, and citizens.

  11. The questions asked in this article states, “does local news even matter?” I do find that local news does not matter anymore; in fact must news does not matter anymore. The news media has resorted to entertainment news to use at least half of their time reporting the news. I remember when I was home for Thanksgiving watching the local news with my dad, there were two news stories, one was about Kim Kardashian and the other news story was the X factor. Who is reporting on the news on the Occupy Wall Street? The news media is more worried about the ratings than their substance of the news.

  12. Unfortunately Mr. Smith, you make a lot of correct points in your article. I was particularly interested in the first few paragraphs to be specific. The way I see it is that the majority of people in America are more interested in the learning of celebrity failures and successes than they are in learning of the cold truths of the world. It disappoints me, but it is a reality. Nobody wants to hear about that local hero who died in Afghanistan or the local Pop Warner team that worked their butts off and went undefeated. They want to hear about how the latest celebrity is destroying their life with drugs and bad choices.

    What I think is that people have a never ending passion for curiosity. They are curious as to how their lives stack up against the rich. Since the rich are always screwing up it makes people feel better about themselves. It's a shame but maybe one day we can get back to learning about how people are doing good in the world.