a picture of someone reading local news shows a person sitting on a bench with a newspaper

Local News has an Important Future

Even as the world turns to online information as a guide, smaller journalism has something more to offer.
December 22, 2022
7 mins read

The past few years have been turbulent in the world of journalism. The changing mediums that people get their news from, the attacks on journalists from both sides of the political spectrum and the downsizing of newsrooms all over the country have all impacted how people get their national and local news.

What has not changed, and will not change is the importance of covering local events and news stories. Even with an unstable journalism landscape, the thirst for knowledge will always be within people. And in a lot of cases, what is happening in your backyard will have the most immediate impact.

“A true local news story really brings the community together,” said Zac Slowik, news director at Impact 89FM, Michigan State’s student radio station. “I always find that the news that is closest to me hits the hardest.”

Finding stories to tell in the Michigan State and Lansing communities is Slowik’s job. He produces both written and audio content for the radio station and attempts to tell the stories of people and groups who don’t see their stories told elsewhere.

Jack Moreland, a news assistant at the Lansing State Journal, also feels strongly about the importance of local news coverage.

“In my opinion, local journalism is very important to improving the community feel of an area,” Moreland says. “I find out a lot about the smaller occurrences in the area from local journalism and the direct focus on issues relevant to the community helps foster a significantly more informed population. I think that local government is a lot more impactful than people generally give it credit for, so having local journalists helping to inform the local electorate is a very important part of our society.”

According to Slowik, the best local news stories are the ones that are able to be spread by word-of-mouth. If stories are being discussed in places like barber shops, grocery stores, or local sporting events, then they’re likely stories worth telling, Slowik said.

A story that Slowik wrote about the Michigan State alumni marching band picked up traction locally in East Lansing and currently has thousands of views on Impact’s website.

“It’s definitely been my most viewed article,” Slowik said. “The reaction that it got really made me feel positive about myself and that I was doing a good job and belonged in the profession that I chose.”

Slowik’s emotional investment in his work is crucial to the future of local journalism. There is a dire need for journalists who want to tell local news stories. The ability to gain experience like Slowik did while still in school is extremely important for keeping talented storytellers in the publication business.

A recent shake-up to local journalism has been large publications like Gannett selling local newspapers to regional publications. On top of that, many great journalists have been offered severance packages to voluntarily leave their positions at Gannett papers. The company has cut the pay of many employees and the future of many journalists’ careers are in jeopardy.

The impact of all this news looks bad initially. And there is a good chance that reduced pay and a lack of job security for local journalists could be immensely destructive to local news outlets. However, an optimist may look at this situation and be grateful that smaller publications will be running more daily and weekly newspapers around the country. A more regionalized ownership group will likely understand how to best cover the region they reside in. Stories of underprivileged and underrepresented groups and people may be covered more. Better stories attract more readers. More readers attract more advertisements. More advertisements make more money for these journalists and the cycle continues.

Nevertheless, as of right now, this has not been the case. Moreland is a news assistant at the Lansing State Journal, a Gannett-owned newspaper.

“I unfortunately think the future of local journalism is pretty bleak,” Moreland said. “I have only been at the LSJ since August and they have already lost a third of the staff that was there when I started. More people are likely to leave with furloughs and other cutbacks on the way. We also receive a lot of comments about subscriptions being too expensive and some heated comments about our paywalls as well. Without the classified ads, papers really need readers to pay for content, but if people are not willing to pay there is a real issue with the sustainability of the industry. I hope that I am wrong, but I think these local publications may continue to shrink.”

The days of having a newspaper delivered to your doorstep may be dwindling, but people will always have a desire to know what is happening around them and around the world. The rise of news being delivered via Twitter and Facebook has given non-journalist citizens the opportunity to share breaking news as it’s happening. While this has had many great benefits, it also has opened the door for falsehood presented as fact to quickly reach the eyes of a massive audience.

As Moreland said, this is happening fast; what might have been the norm last year or even last month is not the norm now. News and journalism is not dying. What is dying is journalism as we know it. Journalists must adapt quickly to keep up with how news is reported and how people view it, as well as learn how to present facts in a verifiable way that can stand up to scrutiny.

Liam Jackson, Michigan State University

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Liam Jackson

Michigan State University
Creative Writing

Liam Jackson is a senior at Michigan State studying journalism. He is the sports editor at Impact 89 FM in East Lansing.

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