Local and nonpartisan reporting should not be undervalued

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh  | Daily Trojan

Whether it is a national news outlet like CNN, a localized publication like the Los Angeles Times or a college newspaper like the Daily Trojan, one thing is certain: News is the hallmark of an informed society; it educates, uncovers and holds people accountable. 

As people attempt to navigate the flurry of new information and updates, the ever-evolving nature of the coronavirus has led to an increased consumption of local news: The New York Times examined the use and consumption of media and news in light of the coronavirus and found that, in March, local news sites such as The Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe showed substantial increases in average monthly traffic, with readership up over 100% from February in some cases. While directly prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, this newfound affinity for local reporting should persist post-pandemic and become a habit of everyday life. 

In a March poll by the Gallup and Knight Foundation, 44% of respondents claimed they were paying significant attention to local news, compared to only 22% of respondents in December. It is no coincidence that as the coronavirus evolved into a real threat in communities, people started brushing up on local news.

At the same time, readership for partisan sites like Breitbart and Fox News on the right and Truthdig on the left stagnated and in some cases dropped.   The concern over the coronavirus — specifically, finding testing centers, tracking the number of confirmed cases and following the newest health recommendations  — translated into people seeking more straightforward, impartial news rather than stories that may be tainted by partisanship. Interest in opinionated takes, which has arguably characterized the media landscape in previous years, has decreased in the face of an existential crisis that lends itself to a desire for hard facts.

Ironically, as the importance of local and objective news becomes increasingly clear, outlets are finding it more difficult to stay afloat.

It has been anything but smooth sailing for newspapers in recent years. According to Forbes, circulation is at its lowest point since 1940, and revenue has decreased by 62% since 2008. While it is obvious that newspapers were already struggling pre-pandemic, the coronavirus certainly exacerbated this downward trend. 

Local newspapers depend on local businesses to buy spots for advertisement. With businesses closing down and facing economic turmoil, newspapers have lost a significant portion of their revenue, leading to major cutbacks and job losses. For instance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer had to fire 22 newsroom workers, an unfortunate but not uncommon occurrence in local newspapers across the nation at the moment. 

According to the Brookings Institute, as of April 6, 57% of counties with at least one reported case of the coronavirus do not have a daily newspaper, and 37% had a local newspaper disappear in the last 15 years. The reality is that the recent trend of increased consumption of local news is contrasted by a more long-standing pattern of its gradual disappearance. 

This moment in history demonstrates the importance of both local and impartial news in times of crisis, when knowing the details and the minutiae may be a matter of life or death. Hopefully, this pandemic will be the launching pad for greater appreciation of and support for both local news and nonpartisan national news. 

Buying subscriptions now is one way to support local news — under the assumption that, when the threat of the coronavirus is not quite as imminent, these subscriptions are maintained and this local news is consistently consumed.

In a wildly chaotic and unprecedented time, news outlets have offered a sense of direction, a way to understand both the world at large and the five-mile radius within a community. It is easy to see why people value objective data, facts and figures during a time of pure uncertainty. 

Post-pandemic, there will no doubt come countless more times when a persisting threat will lead the whole world to furiously check for updates on local and national news. Instead of waiting to be compelled by such an event to check the news, people should continue this behavior regularly.

A public eager to know about what is happening locally and eager to find objective news cultivates an informed society. If we don’t value reporters and news in the little moments, they will cease to exist in the big moments — moments like these, when it seems we need them most.