A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
At “Accelerate: Local News,” a summit being held by Facebook, ONA and the Knight Foundation this week, optimism about the future is fighting profound pain about the past and present.
Local newsrooms have lost half of their reporting muscle in the past ten years. Papers have lost almost half of their daily circulation. And all this has happened while Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) have gained power. The result: “Ghost newspapers.”
Big Tech execs say they’re here to help. But many journalists are skeptical…
Are there “ghosts” where you live?
This event is being held under Chatham House Rules, so I can’t name the speakers, but here’s the tech giant’s message: “We care deeply about local news, on and off of Facebook.” When Facebook surveys users about what news they want to see more of, “local news is #1 by far.” But, as the company said earlier this week, its own research has found a huge number of info-starved “news deserts.”
The takeaway: “One in three users live in places where we can’t find much local news.”
Some states are better-informed than others… Arizona, for instance, is a stronger local news state than New Jersey, according to FB. Many of these communities still have daily or weekly papers, but they are shells of their former selves – “ghosts,” as UNC’s Penelope Abernathy likes to describe them. One of the presentations at this summit on Tuesday was about “the rise of ghost newspapers” – a phenomenon that disproportionately hurts “very vulnerable citizens” in rural areas.
Key quote: “There’s a lot of research that shows that when metros pull out of outlying areas, either in terms of reporters or circulation, political activity goes down and political participation goes down.”
FB is going to start sharing raw data with Abernathy and three other experts in this space… To better understand what’s being consumed on FB in areas that are full of ghosts…