The Local News Challenge and You

America has seen a dramatic decline in coverage of local news.

The digital revolution has massively disrupted the business model for local news. Many news organizations are slashing their staffs. Others are closing altogether, creating a widening sea of “news deserts.” Why does it matter? A self-governed democracy needs an informed citizenry. Local news is the oxygen for engaged communities that enrich our everyday lives.

The crisis in local news is deepening, but there are innovative efforts underway to reverse this trend. From coast to coast, researchers, businesses and foundations are working hard to sustain local news. Northwestern University’s Local News Initiative has taken up this cause. Led by the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, the Local News Initiative is playing a leading role nationally in research and development of new approaches to local news.

This is a really big problem for the country, not just for the industry, said Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean at Medill. Franklin is head of the Local News initiative, which has launched this website as a place to examine the issues and highlight important research by us and others.

We want and need your help.

Do you have feedback on our stories? Do you want to share observations about the local news crisis? Can you suggest stories that we should write or topics to explore?

Find us on Twitter at @LocalNewsIni or email us at

Latest Posts

  • Sobering Reality for News Outlets: Your Readers May Be Elsewhere 99% of the Time

    Here’s a question for local news producers: What are your readers doing when they’re not visiting you? That’s the question asked by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center in an eye-opening study of three metro news websites based on data from the media analytics company Comscore. And it’s a particularly relevant question because the study showed that the three news sites commanded less than 1 percent of their desktop users’ total digital time. The study, conducted...

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  • Medill Teams With German Foundation for Global Seminar on Local News

    The Medill Local News Initiative and Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung foundation will host the Global Seminar on Local News, a June conference in Chicago to discuss worldwide challenges to local journalism and their impact on democracy. The seminar will feature presentations by news executives from Bulgaria, Nigeria, Mexico and Germany as well as influential U.S.-based voices on the crisis in local news. The June 24-26 event is invitation-only, but video of the main discussions on June 25...

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  • Knight Lab’s Class Brings Design Principles to Local News

    A new Northwestern University class called Design for Local News isn’t trying to make minor tweaks in the current media environment. It’s going straight to the question of what information the public needs and starting there to invent new products. “It’s like a Zen beginner’s mind, a ‘first principles’ sort of thing. Pick your metaphor,” said Associate Professor Zach Wise. As local news outlets suffer from a disrupted business model that has led to widespread...

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  • Medill’s Franklin on Why Local News Outlets Aren’t Jumping in Apple’s ‘Magic Mixer’

    The recent launch of Apple News Plus is the biggest test yet for news bundling—the idea of selling access to a wide variety of news sources through one platform at one price. Apple News Plus costs $9.99 a month for more than 300 titles, mostly magazines but also a few newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. In general, local news organizations have not signed on, put off by Apple’s...

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  • The ‘eHarmony of Political Coverage’ and Other Local News Innovations Medill’s Research on Digital Subscriptions Empowers Newsrooms

    Here’s a neat trick that other newsrooms might want to steal. During Chicago’s recent election, the Tribune ran a quiz headlined, “Which Chicago mayoral candidate do you align most closely with?” The Tribune got candidates to answer a set of 14 questions, and then readers were invited to answer the same questions and learn which politician they were most in synch with. The feature served multiple purposes: educating readers on the candidates, helping readers focus their...

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  • USC’s Crosstown Project Turns Big Data into Local News

    Gabriel Kahn says his data project, Crosstown, delivers “the kind of information that allows citizens to be the squeaky wheel.” Kahn, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, and his team are developing Crosstown to analyze and publish data on “core quality-of-life issues” such as traffic, crime and air quality. The goal: to make large data sets useful on a local and even hyperlocal level. “Part of it comes from my...

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