The media industry is facing some tough headwinds. The meteoric rise of social media has changed the way that people consume news–and many of the small outlets have had difficulty adapting. Most digital ad revenue has funneled toward giants like Google and Facebook, while print revenue has seen a steep decline. As a result, most media companies have had trouble remaining sustainable due to these tectonic shifts. None of this, mind you, is news to anyone who works in the industry. But it turns out the perception beyond our bubble is quite different.
A new survey from the Pew Research Center, which queried over 34,000 people, shows that most Americans think local news is doing just fine. Writes Pew: “About seven-in-ten say their local news media are doing either somewhat or very well financially (71%), while about a quarter say their local news organizations are not doing well (24%).”
And there’s, of course, an ironic twist. Despite the fact that most of the respondents believe local news to be thriving, hardly anyone said they paid for such content. “When asked if they had paid or given money in the past year to any local news source–by either subscribing, donating, or becoming a member–84% of Americans said no; 14% said yes,” writes Pew. The report adds that those who prefer social media as their vehicle for consuming local news had the highest percentage (90%) of people who did not pay for local outlets.
In a sense, this is a pure distillation of the current American political moment. Despite widespread reports pointing out that much of the news media is in peril due to shifting economics, the vast majority believe the complete opposite. And when asked if they themselves support the media they believe to be doing well, most said no. One of the most popular reasons cited for not paying was that free local news was easily accessible.
Meanwhile, the tech giants–who certainly helped hasten local news’ demise–are now trying to figure out ways to revive it. Google, for instance, is launching a Local Experiments Project, which aims to fund local media projects. The first one, writes Axios, is a partnership with McClatchy that aims to build three “digital-only local news operations on multiple platforms.” Overall, Google has pledged $300 million to help the media industry transition to digital. Facebook, too, has been allocating resources to help the local news crisis.
Will these projects help the media industry out of this financial rut? It’s unclear. Let’s at least hope that as more people shine a light on the problems smaller news operations face, more Americans become aware of how dire the situation is.
You can read the full Pew report here.