A focus on people instead of power

“In their view, besides tragedy and crime, all current local news media does is tell the stories of people in power, not about people like them nor stories that directly (or clearly) impact their lives.”

Over the course of the pandemic, my company collaborated with TED to produce two seasons of the podcast Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala. Each of the 20 episodes in the series visits a different city to find transferable ideas that shape that place. Without really intending to, we got into conversations with multiple people in four very different cities around the world about local journalism — and their comments may provide guidance for local news initiatives in the coming year.

During multiple unrelated interviews with local citizens in each — Caracas, Venezuela; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Bangkok, Thailand; and Durham, North Carolina — the topic of local news came up. We asked variations of, “What do you expect from local news?” The answers were almost universal across all the interviews in these four cities — and even more remarkable, since they were all conducted by different journalists and on different topics.

What did they say? In all four cities, citizens wanted local news to tell stories of people, not stories about power. In their view, besides tragedy and crime, all current local news media does is tell the stories of people in power, not about people like them nor stories that directly (or clearly) impact their lives. And when they talked of power, the definition is surprisingly broad. Politicians, government officials, and the wealthy have power, of course, but even interviewing book authors was seen as focusing on those with power. And to the people we spoke to in these four cities, those they see in power aren’t genuinely concerned about the lives of those in their neighborhoods — so why should they care about listening to those in power?

So what did they want instead? Those interviewed described their ideal as something we might call hyperlocal news — news focused on neighborhoods and the actions of residents. They don’t trust government and government officials, largely thinking those institutions aren’t working in the citizens’ best interests. They want news that is immediately useful to them. They want news that they can verify with their own eyes.

They want to hear stories about their neighbors as well as businesses and activities in their area. They want things that lift up and make them proud to be part of their communities. “I just want to hear how they’re gonna help more of the community rather than tear them down,” a woman named Angel told Saleem outside a bus station in Durham “Like, people are opening up gardens…trying to do something productive in the communities. And I wanna hear more positive than bad.”

In Caracas, Venezuela, Helena Field of El Bus TV (a group of journalists who provide local news reports live on city buses), described the approach as getting away from journalism that’s like a “helicopter” and more like a “bus,” with a clear, slow view of a limited geographic area at the ground level.

In Bangkok and San Juan, they spoke about the need for local media to focus on helping: helping connect people, helping address immediate concerns in times of crisis or need, helping to answer questions — helping to tangibly improve life.

Ever since I first stumbled upon this, I see conversations about “news deserts,” the regular polling about trust in media, and opinions about journalism very differently. The answer most media companies embrace to address these issues is to simply produce more, or to focus on addressing implicit bias or political partisanship. That isn’t fully misguided, but I believe that a humble, clear-eyed examination of the 2023 opportunity for local news will show that we’re defining journalism’s service too narrowly and too far from everyday life for the new audiences we hope to serve.

Journalism has the ability to inform, educate, and entertain. Entering into 2023, there’s an opportunity to expand our understanding of what “inform, educate, and entertain” can mean — moving away from power and more into the lives of those underserved by current journalism. As we summarized in the episode about Caracas, local journalism has the power to show people that no matter how daunting things seem, their needs and struggles are real and their local media is actually listening, documenting, and sharing their life’s truth with others.

As journalists and those managing news media organizations continue to build capacity and try to engage with new audiences in the coming year, I believe they will start to see the people vs. power dynamic emerge in conversations with their potential audience, opening them up to new ideas of how to editorially orient their service and unlock the next generation of local journalism.

Eric Nuzum is cofounder of Magnificent Noise and author of The Audio Insurgent.

Over the course of the pandemic, my company collaborated with TED to produce two seasons of the podcast Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala. Each of the 20 episodes in the series visits a different city to find transferable ideas that shape that place. Without really intending to, we got into conversations with multiple people in four very different cities around the world about local journalism — and their comments may provide guidance for local news initiatives in the coming year.

During multiple unrelated interviews with local citizens in each — Caracas, Venezuela; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Bangkok, Thailand; and Durham, North Carolina — the topic of local news came up. We asked variations of, “What do you expect from local news?” The answers were almost universal across all the interviews in these four cities — and even more remarkable, since they were all conducted by different journalists and on different topics.

What did they say? In all four cities, citizens wanted local news to tell stories of people, not stories about power. In their view, besides tragedy and crime, all current local news media does is tell the stories of people in power, not about people like them nor stories that directly (or clearly) impact their lives. And when they talked of power, the definition is surprisingly broad. Politicians, government officials, and the wealthy have power, of course, but even interviewing book authors was seen as focusing on those with power. And to the people we spoke to in these four cities, those they see in power aren’t genuinely concerned about the lives of those in their neighborhoods — so why should they care about listening to those in power?

So what did they want instead? Those interviewed described their ideal as something we might call hyperlocal news — news focused on neighborhoods and the actions of residents. They don’t trust government and government officials, largely thinking those institutions aren’t working in the citizens’ best interests. They want news that is immediately useful to them. They want news that they can verify with their own eyes.

They want to hear stories about their neighbors as well as businesses and activities in their area. They want things that lift up and make them proud to be part of their communities. “I just want to hear how they’re gonna help more of the community rather than tear them down,” a woman named Angel told Saleem outside a bus station in Durham “Like, people are opening up gardens…trying to do something productive in the communities. And I wanna hear more positive than bad.”

In Caracas, Venezuela, Helena Field of El Bus TV (a group of journalists who provide local news reports live on city buses), described the approach as getting away from journalism that’s like a “helicopter” and more like a “bus,” with a clear, slow view of a limited geographic area at the ground level.

In Bangkok and San Juan, they spoke about the need for local media to focus on helping: helping connect people, helping address immediate concerns in times of crisis or need, helping to answer questions — helping to tangibly improve life.

Ever since I first stumbled upon this, I see conversations about “news deserts,” the regular polling about trust in media, and opinions about journalism very differently. The answer most media companies embrace to address these issues is to simply produce more, or to focus on addressing implicit bias or political partisanship. That isn’t fully misguided, but I believe that a humble, clear-eyed examination of the 2023 opportunity for local news will show that we’re defining journalism’s service too narrowly and too far from everyday life for the new audiences we hope to serve.

Journalism has the ability to inform, educate, and entertain. Entering into 2023, there’s an opportunity to expand our understanding of what “inform, educate, and entertain” can mean — moving away from power and more into the lives of those underserved by current journalism. As we summarized in the episode about Caracas, local journalism has the power to show people that no matter how daunting things seem, their needs and struggles are real and their local media is actually listening, documenting, and sharing their life’s truth with others.

As journalists and those managing news media organizations continue to build capacity and try to engage with new audiences in the coming year, I believe they will start to see the people vs. power dynamic emerge in conversations with their potential audience, opening them up to new ideas of how to editorially orient their service and unlock the next generation of local journalism.

Eric Nuzum is cofounder of Magnificent Noise and author of The Audio Insurgent.

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy