Friday, May 20, 2016

Rural Western residents say local papers need more economic news, rigorous reporting

Only 21 percent of people in a sample of the rural West believe their local news is reliable and consistent, says a study by Solutions Journal Network for the LOR Foundation. The study consisted of a focus group (164 people) and a Google survey (1,540 people) in 10 communities in Colorado, Montana and New Mexico and analysis of a week's worth of stories—900 in all—from local and regional outlets in the targeted area, Leah Todd reports for Solutions Journal Network.

The survey found that 52 percent of respondents said "their local news is, at best, sometimes valuable, and a significant number said their local news is rarely or never relevant," Todd writes. Still, newspapers are the No. 1 source for local news, with 81.7 percent of respondents from the focus group saying they get local news from the newspaper, 63.4 percent from interactions with other people, 44.5 percent from local government and community organizations and 40.8 percent from social media. Newspapers also tied with television for top news source among rural respondents to the Google survey.

Respondents were mostly unhappy with coverage of the local economy, Todd writes. Nearly every focus group said jobs and the local economy were the biggest concerns. "Yet very little — just 8 percent — of the news coverage we analyzed focused primarily on the economy ." There was a discrepancy between coverage and perceived coverage. Respondents said they wanted more education coverage, which analysis showed to be the second most covered topic, after crime.

Many people complained that news coverage is too negative, Todd writes. In some areas, such as Española, N.M. respondents "complained bitterly about what they saw as the local paper’s relentlessly negative slant on news — but nearly all admitted they still read it religiously." Española is home to the Rio Grande Sun, whose owners won last year's Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

"People said they want more rigorous reporting that exposes the context of complex issues, and more stories about how their communities and others are responding to problems, in addition to spotlighting the problems themselves," Todd writes. One Whitefish, Mont. respondent said, “If there’s one thing that’s missing, it’s the in-depth reporting or the enterprise-type reporting that goes beyond…what was stated at last night’s council meeting or what we send out in a press release, and tries to get to the root about the issue and have impact on it." A respondent in Anaconda, Mont. said, “I get to the bottom of an article and I say, ‘Where’s the rest?’”

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