May 11, 2017

Local journalism has been hit hard in the last decade. That hasn’t stopped. But in a survey of more than 400 journalists at newspapers with a circulation of under 50,000, the majority of journalists surveyed expressed optimism about the future.

The study, by Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe, fellows at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, was published today in Columbia Journalism Review. Ali and Radcliffe also wrote a piece about their findings.

The report is based on an online survey of 420 journalists from across the country.

Despite cuts and job losses over the past decade, as a group our respondents were more upbeat about their future than perhaps might be expected. At the same time, local journalists remain aware of the significant challenges their sector faces. Respondents told us about issues in recruiting and retaining young journalists, the difficulty of establishing relationships with the next generation of local news consumers, and the wider challenge of overcoming general cynicism toward both the journalistic profession and the mainstream media.

Some numbers from the study aren’t surprising:

  • Forty six percent surveyed are writing more stories than they were just two years ago.
  • Fifty nine percent reported their newsrooms were smaller than in 2014.
  • Seventy percent pay attention to metrics.

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But some of the findings might not be quite as expected for people used to the constant drumbeat of negative news about local news:

  • Sixty one percent are “very positive” or “slightly positive” about the future.
  • Seventy percent reported they spend more time on digital than they did two years before.
  • Local journalists might not have access to newsroom R&D like bigger newsrooms, but many have learned to teach themselves. Seventy nine percent rely on publications such as Nieman Lab, Poynter and MediaShift, according to the study, while 75 percent are just teaching themselves.
  • Of the 70 percent of journalists using metrics to measure engagement and unique visitors, 65 percent said those metrics influenced how they formed their stories “some of the time.”

The report also details technology and emerging platforms and the future. You can read it here.

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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