With its advertising base sapped by Facebook and Google, local news reporting is in crisis. It’s hard for local outlets to play the globalized advertising game these giants rule—it’s a system built on getting as many clicks as possible, which is much easier to do with a story of national interest. Reduced news coverage quickly follows reduced advertising revenue. That’s led regional news organizations to divert some of their remaining resources once devoted to local news coverage to rewriting snappy national news stories to get in on the clicks.
In a September 16 audience with Italian journalists, Pope Francis had some advice that might help. No, not the elusive new business model everyone involved in local news is seeking. Rather, more of a moral framework.
For starters, Francis stressed that local news coverage is in no way inferior to national reportage—a good point to make to an audience of journalists. “On the contrary,” he said, “I would say that it is the most genuine and the most authentic in the mass-media world.” The reason is that its “precise mission” is “to immerse oneself in the daily, local reality, made up of people, events, projects, problems, and hopes.” The person-to-person connection makes it more human.
Francis followed this with another reason local news coverage is so important: “The second is to intercept the same reality, to be able to transmit to a wider horizon all those values that belong to the life and history of the people, and at the same time give voice to poverty, challenges, sometimes urgent issues in the territories, along the streets, meeting families, in places of work. But also to give voice to the places and witnesses of faith.”
Good local and regional news coverage informs national coverage. Where it’s weak, reporters who “parachute” in for national news organizations just don’t know as much. For example: statehouse reporting corps have been sharply reduced over the years, which in turn has weakened national reporting on presidential primaries.