A project of Democracy Fund
The Local News Lab has been archived as of March 1, 2023. This page will remain online but will not be updated. More info.

What is a News Ecosystem?

Here at the Local News Lab we are concerned about creating a sustainable future for local journalism that helps build and strengthen our communities. We believe that future will be built, not as a series of disconnected institutions, but as a network of connected and collaborative journalism efforts that together create a vibrant news ecosystem.

In their 2012 report on “Post-Industrial Journalism” Chris Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky argued “there is no such thing as the news industry anymore.”

There used to be one, held together by the usual things that hold an industry together: similarity of methods among a relatively small and coherent group of businesses, and an inability for anyone outside that group to produce a competitive product. Those conditions no longer hold true.

Today, in place of a news industry, we have a news ecosystem. Like natural ecosystems this new landscape is made up of many players and many ways of meeting the information needs of communities. The ecosystem is strongest when the various pieces work together, interdependent, building on each other’s work.

Here is how Jeff Jarvis, one of the advisers of this project, recently described the New Jersey ecosystem:

“New Jersey — like most every market — now has a growing and disorganized hodgepodge of sites, services, communities, and individuals that operate on various platforms with different motives, with more or fewer resources, and with business models from none to not-for-profit to hoping-for-profit to profitable. They all contribute to a larger ecosystem of information in the state and its communities.”

For too long, this diversity of voices and models has been seen as a challenge to the future of news. We see it as a strength. Ecosystems – both in news and in nature – are strongest when they are most diverse. The nature writer Barbara Kingsolver calls genetic diversity “nature’s sole insurance policy” and writes, “A population will persist over time if, deep within the scattered genetics of its ranks, it is literally prepared for anything.” For too long our media was a monoculture built on one model. Now we need to rebuild the journalistic diversity in our communities to foster an ecosystem that is ready for anything.

But today, that  ecosystem still faces very real challenges. Resources are spread unevenly, there are gaps in coverage and quality, and we are still learning what our communities need from local newsrooms.

Journalism is no longer a product created by institutions, it is a service we produce together. We all have a part to play in supporting and expanding a healthy media ecosystem.

Other writing on media ecosystems: