May 9, 2019
By RUTY KOROTAEV
Survey of small-market papers finds workers anxious about ad revenue, stressed about digital competition but still have their readers’ trust
Despite the common refrain that local newspapers are on the verge of extinction, a new report has found that small-market newspapers are engaged with their local communities and many older journalists remain optimistic about the state of their business.
“Good News, Bad News: A snapshot of conditions at small-market newspapers in Canada,” a report published by the Ryerson School of Journalism’s Local News Research Project and the National NewsMedia Council, found that industry workers are caught in a tug-of-war between what they believe to be vibrant and successful newsrooms and the “perception that their industry is on its deathbed.”
“The biggest challenge is showing people that we have a future. People hear messages about how the newspaper industry is in big trouble, and it filters down,” one respondent said. “Advertisers hear this message and they’re less willing to advertise. Students coming out of journalism schools hear about papers that are closing. They don’t hear about the opportunities that exist with weekly and small-city newspapers. And people don’t see how many community newspapers are diversifying, through their websites and through podcasts.”
The report is modelled on a Tow Center for Digital Journalism study by University of Oregon Carolyn S. Chambers, professor in journalism Damian Radcliffe and University of Virginia assistant professor Christopher Ali. Their 2016 survey of small-market newsrooms found that U.S. journalists were facing shrinking newsrooms, lack of job security and increased workloads, but reported a high degree of optimism and an understanding that the work they do is not replicated by bigger news outlets.
Canadian participants in the LNRP and NNC survey indicated similar conditions.
“These results paint a picture of what’s happening in small-market newsrooms at a time of major disruption,” said the LNRP’s lead investigator April Lindgren in a press release. “Smaller newspapers face major challenges but the survey also reveals that publications know they are making a unique contribution to communities by focusing on local stories that nobody else is telling.”