If living through 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that staying connected to the people around us is more important than ever. Whether it’s a paper, a broadcast, or a Tweet, community newsrooms keep us in the know about the latest COVID-19 information, local elections, school openings, weather forecasts, sports triumphs, and all the other stories that matter in our daily lives.
Yet at such a crucial time, local news is vanishing faster than ever. Between 2004 and 2020, over 2000 daily and weekly newspapers ceased publication. According to a report from the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism, “the vast majority of the dailies that closed in recent years served impoverished communities that never regained their economic footing in the years after the 2008 recession.” In 2020, more than 200 of the United States’ 3,143 counties or equivalent administrative divisions had neither a newspaper nor a credible alternative. That means that during the pandemic, hundreds to thousands of American communities have had nowhere to turn for the latest reporting on infection rates, vaccination clinics, unemployment benefits and rent or mortgage assistance programs.
Many of the local outlets that have remained in circulation have suffered economic losses over the course of the pandemic. Reports from Pew Research indicate that newspaper employment in 2019 fell to 34,950 total employees from 71,070 employees in 2008, a loss of nearly half the employees in the industry. In 2020 alone, the New York Times reported an estimated loss of 37,000 jobs in the publications industry overall, 6,000 of whom were employed at local newspapers. That means about 16 out of every 100 local newspaper journalists lost their jobs in 2020 alone. And these statistics don’t even include the furloughs, pay cuts, and hours cuts many outlets imposed to hold their bottom line as advertisers pulled money in the early days of the pandemic and resulting recession.
Local news couldn’t disappear at a worse time, either. In a 2020 Gallup poll, 33% of Americans said they do not trust mass media at all. This is the highest level of total distrust of media since Gallup began the survey in 1972. Contrast the average state of dubiety of national news with that of local: about 85% of 2019 poll respondents reported trusting either “some” or a “great deal of” local reporting versus only 62% of national reporting. And it isn’t hard to see why. Local writers bring a special authenticity into their content — they live among the communities they serve and connect to the issues that community faces on a deeper level. They maintain decades or centuries-long relationships with the other pillars of local infrastructure, the county and city-level governments, the school system, and the justice system. When local news outlets act as a watchdog over these entities, they do a great service to their communities, keeping corruption in check. In fact, out of the past ten Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service, seven have gone to local newsrooms. This demonstrates that, despite numerous setbacks discussed earlier, local journalists still do an irreplaceable service to the community in raising the voices of the vulnerable and holding the powerful accountable.
Local journalists also face unprecedented violence during this time of intense media distrust. The flames of this media distrust were fanned in part by former President Donald Trump, as he tweeted that major media outlets were the “Enemy of the American People.” Violence against journalists has escalated to staggering levels since the 2016 election. In 2020 alone, there were 372 reported attacks on the media alone, a 962% increase from 2019. And we cannot forget the massacre at the The Capital office in Annapolis, MD in 2018, where Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters, all local news employees, lost their lives while doing their jobs: keeping their community informed.
Still, despite all of this, local journalists press on.
Local journalists are the backbone of the media industry, heavily relied on by both their communities and national media alike. That’s why in our latest app updates, we’re making finding local, relevant news easier than ever.
You may recall in October we announced that Flipboard brought in local news and video content in over 60 metro regions in the US and Canada. We’re pleased to announce we’ve doubled down on this coverage, adding nearly 1,000 total local news topics in the US and Canada that users can follow on Flipboard to keep up with the latest updates in their communities. Our coverage now extends to all 50 US states and all ten Canadian provinces. There is now a local topic for over 80% of all US cities with 100,000 residents or more. We also offer local topics for 84% of the top 150 Canadian cities where English is the primary language.
The topics highlight the best of local media, from the pens of veteran newsroom reporters and the broadcasts of TV station anchors. Updating throughout the day, local feeds are always relevant, so users are always up to date with breaking news in their area. Larger metro topics also feature sub-sections for video content and more specific interests, like Sports, Politics, Business, and Things To Do.
So how can you find your local news on Android and iOS devices? To get started, make sure you update your app.
You’ll notice our latest app update adds a request for your permission for the Flipboard app to use your location. App location access allows us to suggest the nearest local coverage to your current location. Rest assured, when you allow Flipboard to use location permissions, it is used to help you discover relevant content and will not be stored on our servers. Once you allow Flipboard access to your location, we will suggest topics in your city, region, or state. Be sure to follow your favorites to stay in the loop with your community.
We are continuing to bring even more coverage into Flipboard and to support the critical work of local journalists during these unprecedented times. If your city isn’t represented, please let us know by tweeting us @Flipboard.
Anna Liz Jensen, Lead Software Engineer on Core Applications