Professor Ágnes Gulyás discusses the fundamental changes in local media.

Local news and media matter. It is an important part in the lives of our communities. It is a forum for public debates, information flow and is a site of collective memory and cornerstone of a healthy local democracy.

However, local news and the wider media have been going through significant changes and as a result traditional forms are under threat.

Circulation of local printed newspapers have plummeted. Many titles have shut down or been merged with another, while the internet has provided opportunities for new forms and providers to emerge.

Yet the issue of local news in the digital age rarely hits the headlines or is a topic of public debates, and what discussion there is about local news and media is fragmented and often polarised.

On one hand, there are those who see the impact of digital technologies and online platforms in a positive light. They argue that it empowers audiences, eases access to information, encourages two-way communication and interactions between members of local communities, and provides a more effective local dialogue.

The huge volumes of engagement with community issues on social media, for example, via Facebook community or resident group pages and the burgeoning numbers of hyperlocal news sites online, are often cited as evidence for this view.

On the other hand, there are those who emphasise the negative impacts of digital technologies and online platforms. Arguing local news and media are at the mercy of commercial imperatives and algorithms of giant tech companies (notably Facebook and Google).

Another perceived negative impact is that digital technologies do not provide sustainable business models for local news providers; they undermine the quality and trust in local news, they fragment local information flow and debates, and digital inequalities mean not everyone in the community has access to news or able to participate in discussions online.

These conflicting views highlight that we are living through a fundamental transformation of the local news and media sectors, and that the emerging new landscape and key issues within are complex.

The transformation is affecting all aspects of the sectors. From production to distribution, through to consumption.  As a result, our perception of what ‘local news’ or ‘local media’ means is also shifting.

However, our understanding of the impacts and implications of this transformation on the important political, social and cultural functions of local news and media is limited and debates about the topic are scarce.

Arguably there is a danger that this vital cornerstone of democracy and key part of the fabric of social life will wither on the vine because of lack of overall foresight and inaction.

Hence, there is a need for more public and political dialogue about the changes in local news and media. Policy considerations for appropriate interventions will need to be looked at to ensure they do fulfil important roles and meet the needs of local communities for current and future generations.

 

Ágnes Gulyás, Professor of Media and Communications in the School of Media, Art and Design and co-director of the Centre for Research on Communities and Cultures. She teaches across a range of courses including Media and Communications, Multimedia Journalism and MA by Research programmes and supervises PhD students in the school.

The Centre for Research on Communities and Cultures has organised a public event about the future of local news which is open to all. ‘The state of local news: Bright future or dark times? event will be held at the Powell Lecture Theatre in the Powell Building at the Canterbury Campus on North Holmes Road on Thursday, 25 January. It will see senior journalists, media professionals and key stakeholders from Kent consider the role of local and regional journalism in two round-table discussions.

To register for the event click here.