Dec 1, 2018

The News Divide: Where the death of local news hits hardest

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

High-speed broadband and mobile internet have created more opportunities to access free news and information than ever before.

Yes, but: It's also made it harder for quality news and information outlets, particularly ones in rural areas, to survive. Tech has disrupted the local media business model and pushed more journalism behind paywalls — and there's no end in sight.

News technology divide: Rural communities will rely on more traditional news formats as newer technologies hit cities first.

  • Experts worry that the deployment of 5G over the next few years will worsen the digital divide and have a lasting impact on how rural communities will be able to access quality news and information.
  • National cable and broadcast networks that reach rural America are pushing resources into streaming channels as linear television revenues decline.
  • But a lack of high-speed broadband in rural America will make it more difficult for some communities to access those streaming channels as more traditional channels are pulled off the air due to economic pressures.

Consolidation means less local information: Technology has changed media economics to favor scale and consolidate under big holding groups concentrated in large cities.

  • A study released in October by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism shows a stark decline of newspapers in rural areas.
  • "More than 500 newspapers have been closed or merged in rural communities since 2004. Most of these counties where newspapers closed have poverty rates significantly above the national average. Because of the isolated nature of these communities, there is little to fill the void when the paper closes."
  • And while digital websites are trying to fill the gap, they often don't have the same journalism resources as the former newspaper.

New owners of local news franchises are lest invested in local news: Industry economics have prioritized national news over local.

  • A study from Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy earlier this year found that only 17% of news stories in a community are actually local, meaning they're actually about or having taken place within a municipality. 
  • And less than half of the news stories (43%) provided to a community by local media outlets are original.
  • This is often because holding groups are consolidating resources, forcing local reporters to focus on national stories that reach bigger audiences.

The rise of paywalls means that high quality information will funnel to elites: As the digital advertising landscape continues to evolve, it's becoming evident that digital ad dollars will continue to flow primarily to tech platforms rather than news publishers.

  • Because of this, publishers are setting up paywalls (subscriptions, members, etc.) to survive. And while more Americans say they are willing to pay for news, those with higher levels of education are more likely to do so. In all, 66% of adults with a college degree pay for news, compared to 43% of people with a high school diploma or less.
  • "There is a growing gap in public knowledge between the information-rich and the information-poor," says Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media.
  • Benson cites other Westernized countries that have less of an information gap because of widely-available publicly-funded broadcast television. Examples include the BBC in the U.K., SVT in Sweden or ZDF/ARD in Germany.

What's next? The death of local news in rural America is expected to accelerate.

Go deeper

Updated 58 mins ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. enters 6th day of nationwide protests over George Floyd's killing

A protest in Philadelphia on May 31. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The D.C. National Guard is being called to assist police with protests, per AP, as protests continue past the city's 11 p.m. curfew.

What's happening: Police fired tear gas into a crowd of over 1,000 people in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Square across from the White House one hour before Sunday's 11 p.m. curfew, AP reports. Earlier in the night, protestors held a stand off in Lafayette Square, after previously breaking through a White House police barricade. A fire in the basement of the city's historic St. Johns Church was extinguished.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Journalists get caught in the crosshairs as protests unfold

A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag atop the CNN logo outside the CNN Center during a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Dozens of journalists across the country tweeted videos Saturday night of themselves and their crews getting arrested, being shot at by police with rubber bullets, targeted with tear gas by authorities or assaulted by protesters.

Driving the news: The violence got so bad over the weekend that on Sunday the Cleveland police said the media was not allowed downtown unless "they are inside their place of business" — drawing ire from news outlets around the country, who argued that such access is a critical part of adequately covering protests.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Tanker truck plows into Minneapolis protesters

The tanker after plowing into protesters on the shut-down bridge in Minneapolis on Sunday evening. Authorities said it appeared protesters escaped injury. Photo: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Minnesota authorities said in a statement they're investigating as a criminal matter what happened with a truck that "drove into demonstrators" on a Minneapolis bridge Sunday evening while the eight-lane road was closed for a protest.

What they're saying: Minnesota Department of Public Safety tweeted, "Very disturbing actions by a truck driver on I-35W, inciting a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. The truck driver was injured & taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. He is under arrest. It doesn't appear any protesters were hit by the truck."