Lights and Shadows on Local Journalism

September 11, 2023
Enjoi Team
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Engagement has never been more crucial in determining the survival of journalism than in the case of local newspapers and media outlets.

Local journalism is in trouble. Historically, it has proved essential in providing communities with information about local events, issues, and developments that directly affect their daily lives. It covered crucial topics such as local government, education, business, crime, and community events. By reporting on these matters, local journalism has played a fundamental role in keeping citizens informed and engaged, empowering them to make informed decisions and, more importantly, creating and fostering a sense of community identity. But, while it used to be one of the primary sources of information for communities, interest in this type of journalism has now changed, putting its survival at risk.

Moreover, local newspapers used to be printed, and their sustainability was linked to advertising funding. Which have now mainly shifted their interests and investments to online platforms. And so has the way people inform themselves, which is increasingly focused on online media outlets that can be accessed more easily and for free. This shift in consumer behaviour has led to a decline in print circulation and subscriptions for local newspapers, further impacting their revenue.

Why engagement is so vital for the success and survival of local journalism

Historically, one of the main reasons for the success of local journalism, and one of its main missions, was to stimulate a sense of community, responding to the needs and concerns of citizens and promoting transparency of information in matters of public interest. But times change and also the sense of belonging: today, geographical identity is no longer enough for this kind of journalism to survive. It needs to be reinvented. For example, local journalism must be thematic, i.e. to find topics and issues a community can identify to find new funding and support through reader participation, interest and involvement. Besides this, efforts are being made to explore alternative funding models, collaborations, and community-driven initiatives to support and sustain local journalism in coping with these difficulties. The common thread for local journalism's economic and social survival, maybe more than in other types of journalism, is the community and its engagement in it.

Investigative journalism still needs local journalism

Local journalism has played a crucial role in local investigations and enquiries, and, in turn, these types of content have played a key role in the revival of some newspapers. They have managed to reignite the flame of local journalism in some places where historical events have - very often due to negative occurrences - created a common cause. Two significant examples of how local journalism has promoted societal engagement and commitment come from Italy. The first concerns a local Sardinian newspaper, Indip, created thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and completely independent of advertising. It deals with local investigation topics and is based on the principles of slow journalism and engagement: in fact, readers can use its platform, Inleaks, to send documents, pieces of evidence and statements in a completely anonymous and protected way. 

The second example takes us back to the first year of the pandemic in one of the cities most severely affected by the virus: Bergamo. Here, the very high number of victims during the first months of the pandemic and the lack of official data and demonstrable numbers prompted the journalists of the Eco di Bergamo - a local newspaper - to carry on an investigation to collect the missing data and shed light on what happened. The results demonstrated that 4.500 of the overall deaths in March 2020 in Bergamo were due to coronavirus: more than double the official sources. In this case, an investigation is an excellent example of engagement used in scientific data journalism to collect missing data.


Featured image by Lis Ferla,

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