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Local news publishers finds ways to engage, keep audience

Local news remains crucial for smaller communities and local newspaper publishers have to adjust to meet changing habits.

The ever-expanding “digital age” continues to give news outlets the ability to report in new and faster ways. And many local news organizations are doing exactly that – all while maintaining a focus on their community.

“Local news is crucial for smaller communities like ours here in East Contra Costa County,” said Juan Cebreiros, a writer for the Brentwood Press. “If you take away the Brentwood Press, the people of this area would be missing out on much needed information that affects smaller communities more than larger ones.”

“I like to say to people, our paper is about the kids, the school, the community and keeping the City Council honest,” added Greg Robinson, the publisher and interim editor of the Brentwood Press.

Although printed publications are still popular in many smaller communities, the impact of technology plays a big part in the ways that people consume news.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2020 found that of the 86% of U.S. adults who receive their news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” do so 60% of the time, while 26% of those polled only “sometimes” get news from digital devices. Fast forward to 2023, those numbers shifted slightly to 56% and 29%, respectively. 

When survey respondents were asked which platform they prefer to get their news, “nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they prefer a digital device (58%), more than say they prefer TV (27%). Even fewer Americans prefer radio (6%) or print (5%)” reports the journalism research and training organization. 

Marina Hernandez Rodriguez, a 10 grader at Liberty High School in Brentwood, said she prefers to get her news online. 

“To me, it’s an efficient way to read and to keep up with news, she said. “Instead of traditionally watching news through a television screen, I just swipe on my feed on social media apps and news articles typically show up. 

Classmate Rylee J. Marcelino agrees.

“When theres a newspaper, its still good, but if something else were to happen you wouldnt know,” Marcelino said. “Whereas on technology, your phone would probably immediately update you and the news on the device would be updated letting you know almost immediately.”

Edith Tidrick, a retired teacher in Brentwood, said she still enjoys the traditional route.

I prefer printed, but find it more time consuming and sometimes I am a day or two behind,” Tidrick said. “Digital is faster to get what is sensational, but very slanted and opinionated.”

With online news – which operates on a 24/7 news cycle – how quickly people receive their news over the last decade also has impacted the way local news publications have broadened their reach.

“We’d call it revolutionary, remembering the 12-hour news cycles we worked under back in the age of newspapers and comparing that to the lightning fast distribution the internet affords us today,” said J.D. O’Connor, the senior editorial adviser of News24-680, an online news service that covers the Highway 24/Interstate 680 corridor area. “We now work in an environment where seconds count and have become precious.”

The availability to consume news around the clock, however, can come with increased costs. Both large – and especially small – news outlets have adapted to this in various ways, including the creation of partnerships.

In its Local Journalism study, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, “Many local news organizations have established strategic partnerships and collaborations as a strategy for improving their viability and meeting the information needs of local communities.”

The partnerships occur with local, national and regional organizations, like public media outlets, nonprofits and universities. In addition to partnerships, local news publications have adapted by using various forms of media to report news – like incorporating podcasts into disseminating the news like the San Francisco Public Press has done, hosting “Civic”  on KSFP 102.5 FM radio, or like the Brentwood Press has done with “page-turning” software for its virtual editions.

Were embedding videos into our stories that you can see, which you don’t have when you have a printed newspaper,” The Press’ Robinson said. “We actually also have an app, which not all newspapers have. 

Although digital news sources like the Brentwood Press are finding an audience, much of this is tied to the benefits over the disadvantages of traditional print news.

“Drawbacks are relatively minor,” O’Connor said. “But involve working longer hours, dealing with some people for whom critical thinking has become a problem and overcoming the initial perception that we were somehow less worthy of attention because we were an online news service.”

*Additional resources:

Digital Age: Meaning, Society & Privacy | Vaia

DIGITAL AGE | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary

More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from digital devices

GAO-22-105405, Local Journalism: Innovative Business Approaches and Targeted Policies May Help Local News Media Adapt to Digital

Loujain Habibi is an 11th grader at Liberty High School in Brentwood.

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