Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy and the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media (CISLM) hosted the Local News Researchers Workshop Feb. 16 and 17 in Chapel Hill. Before and after the conference, which was supported by Democracy Fund, CISLM reached out to a selection of the researchers attending to discuss recent projects, and how local news research can help journalists, community members, funders and academics understand the challenges facing local news.
Andrea Lorenz (she/her) is a recent graduate of the UNC Hussman School PhD program. She will be an assistant professor at Kent State University School of Media and Journalism in the fall. Her most recent publication is in the International Journal of Press Politics, about the local election coverage of candidates who identify as women, and their perceptions of that coverage.
CISLM intern Honor Knapp sat down with Lorenz via Zoom for the following interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: What’s a recent research project you’ve done that has helped us understand the challenges facing local news?
Andrea Lorenz: One research project I’m working on with both UNC’s (Center for Information, Technology and Public Life) and for CISLM is looking at the usage of far-right news, hyper-partisan news, and most of that is on the right, ideologically. I think an important question is: are people’s attentions being taken away by partisan news and, in particular, these hyper-partisan, far-right news (sources).
CISLM: What should non-academics, local journalists or civically engaged community members learn from that research?
AL: Just understanding the landscape of the news that’s out there and what people are consuming, including local news — but, also, other sorts of other media that are drawing people’s attention.
CISLM: What’s a recent research project in local news that you admire?
AL: It’s not necessarily a research project, but (I admire) a recent article published earlier this year by Nikki Usher in Political Communication. (It) looks at local news scholarship and (tries) to shift the discussion about local news and this problem that scholarship talks about with news deserts, having no local news in certain areas. It attempts to shift the way we think about news deserts and the absence of local news in some places. It has us thinking about how to build sustainable local news, but also turning the conversation on its head.
CISLM: Why does local news research matter?
AL: Local news, at its best, should help people solve problems in their communities, talk about problems in their communities, and it should, if done well, help people interact and participate in their communities. I think we need to study how that happens.
We need to make sure that local news and communities (are) contributing in this way; if it’s not, questioning how could (news could) do a better job? And what communities is local news serving? Understanding that is important because, at its core, we want everyone’s information needs met, no matter what community they’re in. We want people to understand their communities, understand people who live in their communities, who are not like them, and to understand the problems that they’re facing so that hopefully they can get together and solve those issues. Local news is not the only way that that happens, but it has been traditionally an important way that that happens.
CISLM: What excites you about the future of local news?
AL: There are just so many ways for people to produce local information and organize local information, that hopefully funds for local news will be dispersed a little bit more so that we can see all sorts of different innovations happening around local news across the country. I think it’s exciting when people in their own community look around and wonder if they could have a better local news system than what they have and try to do something about that.
CISLM: What helps you get through a long day of work?
AL: Taking breaks for the crossword is very helpful to take my mind off of whatever I’m working on and give myself a break. Also taking walks and a lot of coffee.
Are you a researcher, either academic or of the practice, who’s studying local news? Join our Local News Researcher Community, a peer group that meets every month to discuss upcoming, in-progress and recently published projects. Sign up here to join this group.