New survey asks: What’s it like to be a local newspaper journalist in 2020?

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A new online survey is asking local journalists in the United States to share their story and experiences, as part of a project examining the health of local newspapers.

If you work in a newspaper with a print circulation of 50,000 or less, please take a few minutes to share your experiences: https://bit.ly/Tow2020 

The deadline for participating in the study is 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday, Sept. 5.

Supported by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, this study comes at a time when the local newspaper industry is grappling with the implications of COVID-19, a development that accelerated the need to identify new and sustainable business models, as well as the creative and financial opportunities afforded by digital. Alongside this, underlying concerns about  “fake news,” mistrust in journalism and growing “news deserts,” persist.

This new study builds on the findings of earlier research in 2016-17, which shared lessons from the perspective of 420 journalists across the United States.

Local Journalism under threat

Since then, the local newspaper industry, like the media as a whole, has gone through a period of further change and disruption.

The statistics speak for themselves:

Other notable developments which have impacted the news industry in the three to four years since this survey was last conducted, include: the election of President Trump, widespread adoption of the term “fake news,” the emergence of the Stories format on social media, a podcasting renaissance, a move away from the “pivot to video,” as well as a shift to subscriptions and a focus on reader revenue.

Survey Goals

By revisiting this earlier study, researchers hope to compare — and contrast — the experience of local journalists in late-2016 and mid-2020, while also highlighting the contemporary characteristics of today’s media landscape. 

Fundamental to the research is the desire to hear, and amplify, the experiences of local journalists working on the frontline.

"I believe that the voice and the experiences of journalists working across the country deserve to be heard, and I hope that this survey gives them that opportunity to share not only their challenges, but also examples of innovation and resilience," says Damian Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon, and lead researcher on the project.

“To support local journalism, and local journalists, especially right now, we need data,” Radcliffe says. “Encouraging journalists to take a survey in the middle of a pandemic is a big ask,” he adds, “but it’s vitally important that the voices and experiences of local journalists are used to inform efforts to invest in — and support — the future of local journalism.”

Why now?

“The irony is that while battering journalism, the pandemic has also underlined the need for reliable local news — access to accurate information tailored and relevant to your community can be crucial during a public health crisis,” Radcliffe wrote recently in The Conversation and republished by over 30 other news outlets.

Radcliffe has long championed and studied local media in the US and other markets. As a result, he hopes that this research will spark further discussion and act as a catalyst for understanding local newsrooms across the world, as well as in the United States.

Dr. Peter Brown, director of research at the Tow Center, agrees. "This survey comes at an important time for the media and the local news industry,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for journalists to tell us about how their job is changing, as well as their hopes and fears for the future. The research feeds into a wider commitment by the Tow Center to support local journalism across the U.S., and we're looking forward to sharing the findings of this survey when we publish them later this year."

The survey can be found at http://bit.ly/Tow2020.

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