The term “local news” is often used to refer to news with coverage of events in a local context, which would be contrasted with news of other localities, or of national or international scope. The geographic characteristics of local news have been regarded as forces with influence on shaping local media markets, labor, and media technology, which in turn affect local news values. The geographic local boundary assumed to be influential in the process of local news production is easily connected to the socially constructed “community” concept. Thus, local news is expected to play a role in networking the local community and serving local interests.
Local news has been studied both from the perspective of journalistic functions and roles for the local community and concerning changes in the local media market and technology. The former approach deals with the problem of local news conveying a “chamber of commerce attitude” (Breed 1958, 111), rather than representing civic opinions and interests. The latter covers the consolidation of local news ownership into a handful of regionally based monopolies, which leads to a separation of journalists from their local readers and community. Also, local news faces challenges by new digital technologies, which are viewed more often than not as depriving local media of “locality”.
Within the local context, news embraces two contradictory journalism models: civic journalism vs booster journalism. The goals of “civic journalism,” or “public journalism,” as a normative journalism model, include improving civic attitudes, reinvigorating public debate about issues of concern to citizens, and improving participation in civic activities, such as voting, belonging to community organizations, or participating in community problem solving. Local news is expected to play a role in creating avenues for people to connect with each other and their public institutions by bringing awareness of problems, issues, and potential solutions to people in a community. Local news may stimulate growth of knowledge, enhance civic attitudes, and increase participatory behaviors. Local news provided by community media has been termed “the thing that democracy has been made of ” (Park 1925, 13).
But a different view of the local media portrays it as an instrument of social control within the local community. Within the geographic boundaries of community, local news is not produced independently of local political and economic interests, but is interdependent with local power elite. Local media have interests in economic growth in terms of circulation and advertising revenues, and the success of local news, as products, depends on the interests and acceptance of community members. Thus, the local media are inclined to help boost the local economy, while they frequently omit “undemocratic power of business elites” (Breed 1958, 111). Logan and Molotch’s (1987) local growth coalition model explains how the local media become an active contributor to enhance economic value and growth potential in the local community rather than to seek to promote aesthetic and lifestyle values. While the growth coalition is constructed with property owners at the core, along with local government, developers, financiers, universities, various cultural institutions, and so on, the local media enter the growth coalition by selectively reinforcing, legitimizing, and endorsing the accepted views. Whereas communities within a region or landowners within a single community may compete directly with each other, the local news endorses only the overarching position common to all community elites: that growth is desirable. Local news preserves the objective reporting principle, yet underlies more boosterism than quality of life in local communities.
The public’s expectations of local news have changed from the traditional “watchdog” role toward “good neighbor”: caring about the community, reporting on interesting people and groups, understanding the local community, and offering solutions (Poindexter et al. 2006). The gap between the public’s expectations of local news as good neighbor and the public’s disaffection with the press’s watchdog role, however, should be investigated further. The good neighbor and the watchdog model do not appear to be contradictory but complementary.
Local news has been affected by overall reduced news consumption. The number of local newspapers has declined, and readerships and circulations of local media have diminished. But paradoxically, the regional or local newspaper business is reported to be booming. The readership size and advertising revenue in individual local media entities in the UK, for example, have increased in recent years (Franklin 1998). This resulted from the consolidation of local newspaper ownership into a handful of monopolies.
The consolidation has led to a reduced number of local newspapers. It sustains profitability by centralizing production in large regional centers, which, in turn, separate journalists from their readers and local community. The media group also has further minimized production costs by reducing the number of journalists employed, which increases local papers’ editorial reliance on news agencies and public relations sources based in local and central government, as well as other local interest groups. Whereas local media businesses survive and prosper to some degree, the journalistic value of “locality” is at risk.
New digital technologies create economic and journalistic challenges and opportunities for local news by increasing local communities’ access to news via the Internet and mobile telephony. The traditional local media, such as newspapers and broadcasting, face detrimental challenges by a significant and troubling migration of news users and advertising to new media sites. The traditional “spatial” localism may no longer provide a beneficial community sense for local news in the new media environment, where new communication technologies such as Internet, satellite, and digital mobile broadcasting (DMB) defy geographic boundaries. On the other hand, the new digital technologies enable any news service, national or local, to adapt more easily to specific localities. The technologies give the media the chance to provide news on demand in local communities. A variety of ways of commissioning user-generated content from individuals and organizations in more segmented local communities are being tested around the world.
The term “hyperlocal” has begun to be used to refer to news coverage of community-level events usually overlooked by mainstream media outlets. The locality in hyperlocal news covers not only the hitherto geographic local area, but local cyberspace communities, such as newsgroups and Internet café blogs (Lindgren 2005). Hyperlocal news contents are more widely available not only to news users in the hyperlocal community but also to ones residing beyond the cyber-boundaries through the new digital network.
- Breed, W. (1958). Mass communication and social-cultural integration. Social Forces, 37(2), 109 –116.
- Franklin, B. (ed.) (1998). Local journalism and local media: Making the local news. London: Routledge.
- Lindgren, T. (2005). Blogging places: Locating pedagogy in the whereness of weblogs. Kairos, 10(1). At http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/10.1/binder2.html?coverweb/lindgren/index.htm, accessed August 31, 2007.
- Logan, J., & Molotch, H. (1987). Urban fortunes: The political economy of place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Park, R. E. (1925). The natural history of the newspaper. In R. E. Park, E. W. Burgess, & R. D. McKenzie (eds.), The city. New York: Random House, pp. 8 –22.
- Poindexter, P. M., Heider, D., & McCombs, M. (2006). Watchdog or good neighbor? The public’s expectations of local news. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 11, 77– 88.