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Local News Journalism

Just a decade ago, people relied on newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations to keep them abreast of important local events. News of political scandals would be plastered on front pages hot off the press, while television stations would warn viewers of the most recently discovered health hazards. Local journalists served the integral dual role of keeping people informed while also ensuring that those in positions of power were consistently held accountable.

But now, with the advent of the digital revolution powered by the Internet and social media, the face of local news and journalism is changing. With more than four in ten Americans owning a smartphone, one in five owning a tablet, and new digital options being introduced at a breakneck rate, people expect immediate access to their local news, simply by reaching into their pocket and clicking a few buttons.

A recent study done by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that recent trends have resulted in a significant gap in local news and journalism. Due to a weaker economy and an explosion of cheaper online advertising options, newspaper advertising fell 43% in the three years ending in 2009. And it's not just newspapers that have been affected. Television advertisement revenue fell 24% in 2009 alone, while radio ad revenue fell 18%, and magazine ad revenue fell 18%.

This significant loss of advertising has led to downsizing in many areas—to the size of papers and print publications, to the amount of time and space devoted to news both in print, on television, and on the radio, and to the amount of professional journalists staffed by the media.

As a result, Americans are feeling a significant gap when it comes to local news. The public no longer feels that traditional news sources can meet their needs. Furthermore, the financial stress that the media is feeling, and some of the decisions they have made to alleviate this stress, makes the public feel like traditional news sources are currently more led by economics than by public service.

The Federal Communications Commission recently released a report addressing the loss of local journalism, stating that it leaves "stories not written, scandals not exposed, government waste not discovered, health dangers not identified in time, and local elections involving candidates about whom we know little."

Traditional media sources know that the public still needs local news, but that old business models can no longer sustain it. As they struggle to keep pace with burgeoning technology, the media is slowly but surely adapting through methods such as establishing paywalls for online content, developing smartphone and tablet applications that allow the public to access news anywhere, at any time, and generating social media campaigns. As the media continues to accept and react to change, it is hoped that the local news and journalism gap will close.


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