“The real crisis in American journalism is not technological, it’s geographic,” said Tom Rosentiel, fellow at the Brookings Institution who founded and ran for 16 years the Project for Excellence in Journalism at the Pew Research Center. “The crisis is that local journalism is shrinking. I wouldn’t say it’s dying but it’s the most threatened.”
This is certainly true in Montana, where a recent study found that people get their news online, but still gravitate most toward the websites of their local papers and television stations. Local press isn’t dead, but it’s fragmented and weakened. Talk to readers, and you’ll find they believe local news these days is both less enticing and less accessible – and thereby less likely to be shared on Facebook, that great master of content.
“There is so much more national and international news available to people, it has changed what people are interested in,” said Rosentiel. During the election, “I saw clear and distinct evidence that people were consuming more national news and less local.”
At their peak in 1990, US newspapers employed 56,900 people full-time in newsrooms, according to data from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. By 2015, that number had plummeted to 32,900. Most of these missing newsroom employees were not working at the national newspapers where our post-election journalistic worries have fixated. They toiled in local and regional newsrooms, in the teams that long covered often mundane but critically important workings of cities, towns and states. Newsrooms and state bureaus are decimated, and staffed with younger, cheaper talent – equally stretched and hard-working but missing much of the institutional knowledge and confidence critical to successful journalism.
This is important. Unlike the press in Europe or elsewhere, American media has long been distinctly local, often employing reporters and editors in their own communities, bringing to light voices that reflect the makeup of their readership.