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Local news isn’t where you thought it was

“Local news is fluid and not fixed.”

Local news will be the key driver for the future of news and journalism in 2019. As 2018 highlighted many issues and challenges with local news coverage, at the same time, several new efforts and resources were also announced to help make local news better.

In 2019, journalists will be challenged to think differently about what local means. Does local mean the neighborhood, a specific set of blocks in an area, or is it a specific community center where people gather? For a news citizen, local can represent any one of these spaces. Local news is embedded in these places and spaces where news citizens live, work and play. The key factor here is recognizing that local news is fluid and not fixed.

Context, space and place make a difference in how one interacts with the world around them, specifically with local news. In my research, I’ve conducted multiple online surveys with news consumers. They want local news and want it within the context of where they are in those moments — where they live, work and play.

In 2019, journalists will dive deeper into understanding what it means to be local. Reporters will set up new routines to listen to what is happening around them in their communities and where the moments with meaning are happening. In turn, they will have a better sense of what shapes a community and the deeper nuances of local news.

As mobile technology continues to advance along with the developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality, the expectation is building among news citizens that they will get information and context in whatever situation, place, or space they are in. It’s already happening with the adoption of smart speakers in homes and vehicles, as well as the rise of geo-located mobile notifications. What does this mean for local news? It means that news consumers are beginning to expect news happening near and around them in the spaces and places where they work, live, and play.

In 2019, this local news development will not be driven by any one type of news organization, but rather by specific journalists who take the risk to jump into this different mindset of thinking about local. The journalists who embark on this journey will recognize that storytelling and news production can be done differently, that engaging and connecting with the community can be achieved, and that creating a long-term news audience is possible.

Amy Schmitz Weiss is an associate professor of journalism at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University.

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