Is The Internet A Danger To Local News?

The funeral bells have been tolling for some time now for the print industry, signifying the demise of newspapers and magazines as more and more news is generated for Internet consumption. As people c...
Is The Internet A Danger To Local News?
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The funeral bells have been tolling for some time now for the print industry, signifying the demise of newspapers and magazines as more and more news is generated for Internet consumption. As people continue to surround themselves with more digital screens – their tvs, their smartphones, their tablets – one would could easily argue that the relocation of viable news sources to the web would have a detrimental impact on the stability of local newspapers.

Still, in this world of the so-called global village, those who are invested the most in their communities are highly reliant on their local newspapers. However, it’s no secret that print publication is on life-support. Paul Gillin, who runs the aptly named Newspaper Death Watch, predicts that the online news industry will effectively kill off 95% of all major metropolitan newspapers in the United States. The Council of Economic Advisers, in collaboration with LinkedIn, recently released a study that shows that newspapers are the fastest shrinking industry in America.

In all, this is a terrible diagnosis for newspapers of any locale or distribution.

If you’re local newspaper went under, how do you think you’d find out about community-relevant news? Do you think exclusively online access would affect the way you seek out news for your city or neighborhood? Feel free to tells us how the change would affect you in the comments below.

A new study released today by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet reveals that while the print industry might be suffering fatal financial problems, most Americans still heavily rely on those sources. Of the 2,251 adults who participated in the survey, which took place in January 2011, 32% said the disappearance of their local newspaper would have a major impact on them.

The availability of local newspapers is a key component with how people stay in touch with their community. Further, the Pew survey found that the local news enthusiasts are more likely to be invested in the development of their community and strive to improve the quality of their neighborhoods and cities.

Curiously, the groups of people that tend to gravitate towards their local newspaper as a means for staying in touch with their community reflects demographic groups that have historically had strong community ties: women, older people, African-Americans, and regular church-goers. What’s more, those that follow the local news are also the consummate news consumer as they actively follow national and international news vigorously, as well. 63% of people say they keep up with news from around the world “a lot” and 78% say they follow the national news regularly, whereas only 35% of other adults say the same.

As we become a society with dual community lives – one in the three-dimensional, physical world and one online – the demise of newspapers could very well emphasize the importance of community blogs and online social networks. As of yet, though, blogs, Twitter accounts, and websites of local newspapers and news stations are relatively used much less than the traditional methods of tuning in to the 6 o’clock news or buying a paper from your local news stand.

Pew Study Most Americans Rely On Newspapers

The slow success of local news to online sources certainly isn’t for lack of an audience because local news enthusiasts aren’t some community troglodytes. Just go log into your Facebook account and take a look at your friends who live in your community and you’re likely to see that they pass along links and comment on articles about their community just like anybody else although, as with most technology trends, that behavior seems to taper off with older generations. The Pew survey found that, in general, Americans haven’t opted for one medium or another but, instead, integrated technology alongside traditional mediums like newspapers in order to stay informed about local news. With so many of us now enmeshed within some kind of online social network, be it Twitter or Facebook or some other similar service, you could argue we’re more disembodied from our communities than ever before and yet we have a reliable inventory of tools that can keep us in touch with our community as a whole better than ever.

The use of technology like the Internet and smartphones isn’t all that different among those that follow the news closely and those that don’t. However, the study points out that “the connectedness of [local news enthusiasts] is driven largely by younger” consumers who, as you would expect are generally more tech savvy than older enthusiasts.

As the print industry lurches onward into what appears to be its inevitable demise, it’s possible that online social networks will not only be the way in which newspapers can best serve their community but also the best way in which community residents can best stay in touch with what’s going on in their neck of the woods. A Facebook timeline for your local newspaper? Don’t laugh just yet, as that’s where this could all be heading

Previous attempts to aggregate local news into one online source have had, at best, tepid success. Most notably, AOL’s Patch was supposed to revolutionize the online distribution of local news but that venture has been plagued with business problems as it reportedly lost around $100 million last year.

It’s hard to say how people will get their local news once – not if – the newspaper industry coughs up its last breath. Online is definitely where we’re going and as options like Google’s localized search results likely become the norm, the Internet will be the only source left. And the Internet, despite how personalized Google wants to make your searches, is a vast and confusing and impersonal abyss that, try as it might, will never truly be a newspaper substitute – it just aims to take its place.

Are you already making the switch to online news sources as opposed to traditional print news to keep a thumb on your community’s pulse? What’s working for you so far? Blogs, RSS readers, simple Facebook pass-arounds? Let us know how you’ve been finding your local news online.

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