Monday, November 23, 2020

Supporting local, independent news could help bridge the rural-urban political gap, writes analyst

Online misinformation and distrust in the news media helps fuel the rural-urban political gap, according to a recent opinion piece. Supporting independent local news media could go a long way towards bridging that gap. More than half of Americans believe the national press doesn't share their interests and concerns, a view encouraged by Republican leaders, Marc Ambinder writes for MSNBC. Armbinder is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

Local journalism is vital to decreasing political polarization and increasing civic engagement, Ambinder writes: "There is a direct correspondence between the closing of newspapers and the polarization of people formerly served by those newspapers. If you live in a town with a thriving local news ecosystem, you are more likely to vote."

The best way to increase trust in the news media overall, he writes, is to promote and support local, independent news, which people tend to trust more than national news outlets. "Trust will not come out of a top-down reappraisal of how the media covers people outside of cosmopolises," Ambinder writes. "An energetic local news revival would create models of engagement; it would allow newspapers (in digital form) to intervene in social conversations before misinformation spreads. Local news outlets are an early warning system that benefits everyone, and over time, might increase the level of comfort that mistrustful Americans have with the reporting process."

But the number of working journalists in the U.S. has plummeted over the past decade, and so has advertising revenue (especially since the beginning of the pandemic). So alternate funding models must be considered, Ambinder writes.

"ProPublica is investing in state reporting, which is excellent. To combat misinformation, we need engaged local reporters with audiences who trust them to report in real time," Ambinder writes. "We cannot cure systemic mistrust of media elites from establishment outlets, or hope to completely tame our information disorder as long as the internet exists. But we can recapitalize local news, and we need to make it a national priority."

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