The Continued Importance of Local Media to the Pacific Northwest

“If we desire healthy and productive democratic communities, then the provisioning of local news—which helps tie citizens to each other and their communities—must continue.”

—Lee Shaker, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Portland State University

Local journalism is more important than ever, as the sector continues to be a vital source of original reporting that informs—and reflects—the communities they serve.

The financial optics for the sector remain challenging, but many local outlets enjoy greater trust than their peers. As Pew noted in 2016, local news organizations are trusted more than many other information sources, providing a foundation on which news providers can build. The organization asserts:

“Only about two-in-ten Americans (22%) trust the information they get from local news organizations a lot, whether online or offline, and just 18% say the same of national organizations. But large majorities say they have at least some trust in both.”

This is particularly important to leverage, as Lee Shaker, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Portland State University, has acknowledged, because “our society is still geographically organized and governed.”

Because of this, local media can still remain highly relevant to many people’s lives. Shaker says:

The advent of new communication opportunities suggests that new forms of engagement will also develop. But ultimately, if we desire healthy and productive democratic communities, then the provisioning of local news—which helps tie citizens to each other and their communities—must continue.

Building on this, it’s worth reminding ourselves of three key bene ts derived from local journalism in the Pacific Northwest and beyond:

1. Creating an Informed Citizenry

“There’s no mystery to it,” argues Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise (Vale, Oregon). “Community journalism is about giving people information on which they can act.”

Zaitz expanded on this further by stating that journalists need “to give
a community accurate, good information [so that] people can come to an understanding of the issues in their community, of what they need to do as a citizen of that community to help make a decision about a new sewer line, a new school building, a surge in poverty.”

2. Content as a Catalyst for Continued Dialogue

“With this push towards engagement, I think journalists realize that your work has only just begun when you’ve published a story,” Mark Zusman, editor and publisher of Willamette Week, observes. “Because [it is] the ongoing engagement a journalist should have with readers—after they publish a story that creates some interest—Is really important to allow readers to be part of the conversation.”

3. Journalism as an Agent for Change

Echoing this, Sharon Chan, vice president of innovation, product, and development for the Seattle Times, notes the impact that journalism can have on policy and communities:

“What we found in the work we’ve done, especially around education, is that if you take some level of responsibility for creating an engaged community … whether it’s online mechanisms or through in-person events … your journalism can actually have a much broader and deeper impact.”

One example of this can be seen in the Klamath Falls Herald and News (Oregon), which has been one of the partners in A Graduation Walk for high school seniors. Hundreds of students walk down Main Street in their caps and gowns.

“The community would cheer on, and other kids would be inspired to say, you know, this can be you, if you work hard. We’ve done something like that to say, ‘It’s so important that kids graduate high school,’” says Managing Editor Gerry O’Brien.

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