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September 16, 2022

Local Fix: Proof journalism can be good for democracy

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Welcome to the Local Fix. Every other week we look at key questions in journalism sustainability and community engagement through the lens of local news. But first, we always begin with one good idea…

Remember you’re more than your career

“Your work is one-sixth of your waking existence. Your career is not your life. Behave accordingly,” Derek Thompson wrote recently for The Atlantic. This is one of five tips he shared for thinking about your work as part of your identity, something that can resonate with many people that work in journalism. Not sure how to put that into practice? You can start with The News Yogi’s Leslie Rangel’s reminder to STOP: Stop, take a breath, observe what’s happening, proceed in the now. And as Derek says, it’s “better to think of your working life not in one dimension, but in two: the horizontal exploration of ideas, skills, and tasks, and vertical commitments to a single line of work that really fits.” 
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How we know that journalism can be good for democracy

People rely on local news to figure out who to vote for, how to speak up at school board meetings, how to run for local office, where to find vaccines, when to organize for change, and more. From daily reporting that equips people to act, to huge investigations that reveal corruption, the health of local news is bound up with the health of our democracy.   

Unfortunately, communities across the United States are steadily losing access to this kind of civic information. According to data released in June 2022, at least one fifth of the U.S. — 70 million people — live in a community without a newspaper or a community at risk of losing theirs. But we know this isn’t news to longtime Local Fix readers. 

Since 2018, we’ve been tracking academic studies that show in stark terms the impact journalism has on our democracy. This research review has become a critical guide for funders, policymakers, communities, and journalists who care about creating a healthier democracy. Now, we have just overhauled this resource, including adding a section that more clearly names the harms journalism has caused in our communities, especially communities of color, thanks to the guidance of UNC PhD candidate Andrea Lorenz.    

These studies and articles provide an enormous set of rigorous data that help quantify what happens when local communities have strong local news — and what happens when they lose it. Understanding the impact of quality local news on our democracy in these sorts of specific, data driven, nuanced ways is critical as we think about how to build a more equitable and sustainable future of local news that truly serves all communities at a moment of threat and uncertainty in democracy. 

➡️ Explore the research here to see the evidence behind things like:

  • Strong local journalism = more people turning out to vote.  
  • Weak local journalism = fewer people vote. 
  • Thorough local journalism helps people be less biased when considering candidates for office. 
  • Quality local journalism can counter divisive national narratives that contribute to polarization.
  • Every dollar spent on local news produces hundreds of dollars in public benefit by exposing corruption and monitoring government spending.  
  • People feel a stronger sense of community in places that have strong local journalism. 
  • Local news keeps communities informed during times of upheaval, like disasters, protests, and pandemics — when people need critical information to engage their communities and leaders.  
  • Important to remember: Local news isn’t inherently good for communities just because it’s local. 
PLUS: Check out the stories published yesterday for Democracy Day coordinated by the Center for Cooperative Media, News Revenue Hub, Hearken, and the Institute for Nonprofit News. 
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On our radar


Jobs and other opportunities

See you soon,

Christine and Teresa
@heres_christine and @gteresa

The Local Fix is a project of Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program, which supports work that aims to transform journalism so everyone has access to information they need to participate in our democracy.

Disclosure: Some projects mentioned in this newsletter may be funded by Democracy Fund. You can find a full list of the organizations here.
Follow us on Twitter at @TheLocalNewsLab.

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