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News / Clark County News

From the newsroom: Predictions for local journalism

By Craig Brown, Columbian Editor
Published: December 23, 2023, 6:00am

Last week I wrote about the demise of a journalism trade organization. Meanwhile, academic institutions devoted to journalism continue to thrive.

One of those is the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Its Nieman Journalism Lab staff recently asked a whole bunch of smart people for their predictions for journalism in 2024. I found them interesting and thought I would share a few perspectives. I will share three here and a couple more next week. I’ve had to cut them to fit the space, but you can read them in their entirety, along with many more predictions, at www.niemanlab.org.

Bringing hope to readers

Engaging audiences is becoming more and more difficult. Data from the Reuters Institute’s 2023 Digital News Report showed a decline in news interest and high levels of news avoidance.

We can have long discussions on why people are choosing to avoid the news and the effect of this on the news business, but where 2024 should take us is to recover journalism’s responsibility to listen to people and understand the role of media when the audience feels emotionally drained by news.

I’m not saying the media must stop covering bad (or terrible) news. Still, that coverage needs to be accompanied by hope. 2024 should be the year of people feeling that the media is listening and understanding their tiredness, the year of telling stories about what “others like me” are doing to resist in the middle of this catastrophic world.

Positive news doesn’t mean a feature about dogs in Halloween costumes or a list of the best metal straws on the market. News outlets need to get involved in how their readers survive (and fight) this chaotic world and build a news agenda around a sense of hope.

In 2024, the media should give people coverage about solutions, community fights, and hopeful and inspiring stories. In the middle of the chaos, there should be a commitment and acknowledgement to the personal agency of the audience and a willingness to publish stories about that, too.

News avoidance will keep growing if the media doesn’t transmit this balance to audiences. The coverage must be done with intention, close to people, and with a call to action on the role of each in the crises. It should be hopeful, explanatory, and constructive.

— Tania L. Montalvo, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Print isn’t dead

When it comes to the business formerly known as newspapers, today’s thin packages dropped on a dwindling number of doorsteps are a far cry from the thick piles of newsprint that were the province of midsize, big-city, and even some small-town dailies. While they are, in many cases, successful digital enterprises, both their admirers and their critics compare them to what they were during the long-lost days of robust print papers.

Print as a content platform and, more importantly, as an advertising vehicle is far from dead.

One example from where I live in northern Ohio is The Portager, a community news startup covering Portage County, a suburban and rural area just outside of Cleveland and Akron. Another is Mimi Magazine. Mimi’s model — a combination of advertorial content and traditional display ads — underscores the simple fact that local advertising is local content.

What the print versions of The Portager and Mimi have in common is delivery by mail. When legacy brands published by news conglomerates go that route, it is seen as yet another sign of the inexorable decline of the industry. But when The Portager distributed thousands of print copies in the same way for the first time, local news aficionados celebrated. While the revenue model is still being constructed, the buzz in the local community is palpable.

Might a similar approach be applied to larger news enterprises? Instead of printing and delivering seven (or six or five) small daily editions, imagine a consolidated weekly newspaper that’s even better than the old Sunday papers of yore: A beautifully designed, lean-back reading experience full of local news and advertising, perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon. It could happen in 2024.

— Mizell Stewart III, Kent State University

Report news people care about

Yes, the Israel-Hamas war is important, along with the ongoing coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the U.S. 2024 presidential election and preventing gun violence and defending democracy (and insert other traumatic news or tragedy here).

But the truth is people are tired of the negative news, and they’re avoiding it in droves. And if we keep ignoring their patterns, journalism could be out of business. We’ve read the reports. We’ve seen the decline in our own audiences. For some, it’s led to major newsroom layoffs and the rise of “doing more with less.”

Journalism is at a pivotal crossroads when it comes to meeting audiences where they are. There’s the audience many news outlets have now, who care about where they get their news and appreciating the news package presented to them. Then there’s the next generation audience, quickly becoming the majority audience — if news orgs can make a compelling argument for their news product’s relevancy.

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The 20-somethings to 30-somethings who have grown up knowing how the internet works have the confidence to go find the information they’re looking for on their own. They don’t need a news brand. They’ll decide for themselves what is fact versus fiction on the big World Wide Web. After all, who wants to be loyal to a brand that doesn’t reflect their interests?

Don’t get it twisted. Next-gen audiences understand the difference between vetted information from a seasoned journalist and the authentic voice of the travel influencer they follow on TikTok. Because when there’s big breaking news, like a war in the Middle East, they’re not expecting that influencer to be a trustworthy voice of information. They’re going to the trusted news sources known to cover the ins and outs of these stories to get them caught up.

But these stories can feel never-ending and often don’t have immediate effects on their everyday lives. So there’s a limit to how much they can take before avoiding news publishers at all costs.

As journalists, we must ask ourselves: What can we do for our audiences that they can’t do themselves that is meaningful to their everyday lives? Is it making them a better person? Does it spark joy? Is it teaching them something useful that they can put into action immediately?

— Kendall Trammell, CNN Digital