What Happens When Local News Dies

What happens in a dystopian - possibly not-so-distant - future when local news has vanished? The void is filled by self-appointed influencers and politicians who, unchecked, craft their public-facing narrative the way they want. Our Head of Content, Xana O'Neill, takes a look at what the future of media may be.

Let’s give local news the It’s a Wonderful Life treatment. 

In a dystopian - possibly not-so-distant - future, local news has vanished. The void is filled by self-appointed influencers and politicians who, unchecked, craft their public-facing narrative the way they want. 

Small communities fall into neglect

All politics is local. But that assumes people are voting based on how decisions impact them. Today, we are more inclined to vote with our emotions -- and it’s not entirely our fault. 

Local news doesn’t trend. For ad-supported platforms and outlets, page views are what drive their bottom lines. As a result, platforms and outlets optimize for clicks. So as many nonlocal outlets churn out outrage porn, local news finds itself buried in algorithmic doldrums. 

Local politicians who want to keep their jobs must run on national issues, rather than local ones -- the issues that push the ‘outrage’ button and generate clicks. This pushes local issues farther down the list of priorities and eventually could lead to neglected community issues and neighborhoods.

Local participation in voting nosedives 

Fewer people vote when they don’t have regular exposure to local news. We can expect this trend to continue as more local news sources dry up. 

Corruption takes hold in local government 

With no local news outlet or watchdog group providing checks and balances, corruption is more likely to take hold. We then accept the narratives spoon-fed to us from local politicians rather than engaging with stories that hold them to account. 

Will residents comb through the minutes of a community board or city council meeting to find out what happened? It’s possible. But it’s unlikely. And with no one there to ask questions about why so-and-so got the bid to build a new bridge in town or why the public library is removing books from shelves, how will politicians be held to account?

The simple answer is, they won’t be. 

The strongest community ties won’t be based on IRL connections

We don't just engage with local outlets for news -- we read them to see wedding announcements, obituaries, town columns and find out what's happening around our communities. They are a mirror of ourselves. 

WIthout that connective tissue, that common ground, we start to lose our sense of community

There is nothing wrong with having communities outside of geography (like #gardentok!). But when the importance of these communities eclipse geographic connection, we are more easily detached from our neighbors and surroundings.

There is a sense of pride in where you live. But if you decouple your geographic community from your identity, then it stands to reason that you will care less about your neighbors and the community as a whole. 

We can thwart that dystopian future through new business models touted by strong, innovative leaders. We don’t have to suffer through our George Bailey moment to realize what we might be losing.

“Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”  –Clarence

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