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Trust in local news

Bad news: scarce resources have eroded coverage; good news: things are on the upswing

February 23, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

I came across this article from Josh Stearns, Director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Its motto is, "Journalism and democracy of, by and for the people."

In an article entitled, "Local News is a Building Block to Rebuild Trust," Stearns said there was a time local news had a great deal more support than national news outlets because it was covering immediate concerns of its friends and neighbors and has a shared concern for the community.

Stearns said, "The erosion of public trust in media is not one problem but many. A complex array of systems and forces?-?including economics, technology, policy, politics, culture, and more?-?that have become bound-up and intertwined in ways that make it hard to define the problem, let alone imagine a solution."

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The challenge we face, Stearns writes, is that while local news holds some of the greatest promise for renewing the social contract between journalists and the public, it also faces the greatest threats. The economic and technological challenges buffeting local news are profound. If we are concerned about trust we also have to be concerned about sustainability and helping rebuild the infrastructure for local news around the country.

Here's the bad news, according to Stearns: Unless we open up to our communities and invite them into the process of journalism, engage them in how and why we do the work we do, we risk descending into a vicious cycle in which local newsrooms keep cutting back to stay afloat, eroding the quality of their coverage, and further withdrawing from their community. People feel poorly served, trust erodes, and attention and dollars go elsewhere. As early as 2013, the Pew Research Center found that one-third of people reported they had "deserted a particular news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to."

The good news is that the leanness, and let's face it the breaking point at which local news reporters will probably do just about anything to get readers re-engaged, is where it's possible to transform these problems and make the local news better than ever.

Fact Box

Read the entire article by Stearns here:

Democracy has traditionally been built from the ground up, not the top down. A strapped local newsroom can start by listening to its readers (hence our reader survey and Monday's declaration that "We Heard You," as we disseminate the results of the survey) and put into practice the relationship building that will eventually rebuild trust.

Stearns said, "As we seek to strengthen trust between citizens and across society, we should begin on the ground. Local news can help us building a strong foundation for a more healthy and trusted democracy."

We can work together to be part of that solution.



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