Local newspapers are disappearing at a rapid rate across the country, but these outlets provide an essential function informing the communities they serve. According to recent research, they also significantly outperform other news outlets in producing more original, local journalistic content of a critical nature.

The News Measures Research Project, a joint research initiative comprised of students and post-grads from Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and Rutgers, conducted a recent study of local media outlets (radio stations, TV stations, newspapers and online-only publishers) in randomly-sampled communities across the U.S. and analyzed the stories of each medium by multiple criteria to gauge the journalistic performance of each outlet type and determine what outlets are best meeting the informational needs of their communities.

The study discovered that local newspapers significantly outperform local TV, radio and online-only outlets in terms of overall story output as well as their ability to produce journalistic content that was both original and local in nature.  

While local newspapers accounted for only about a quarter of the local media outlets in the study’s sample, the study discovered these publications were responsible for producing almost 60 percent of the stories researchers gathered that were of a local nature. Moreover, local papers also produced nearly half (47 percent) of all original news items they found as well.

By contrast, only about 12 percent of local TV outlets’ output consisted of original stories. Local radio produced about 32 percent of original stories and online-only outlets produced less than 10 percent.

Figures(Top): Share of Journalistic Output by Original Stories.
(Bottom): Share of Journalistic Output by Local Stories.

The study discovered that local newspapers also exceeded their outlet frequency in terms of producing stories that addressed information of a critical nature (38 percent), beating out their local TV (18 percent), radio (33 percent) and online-only (11 percent) counterparts.

Among the stories produced by local newspapers, the study also found that more than half (53 percent) of those stories were original, compared to 48 percent for online-only outlets and 32 percent for both TV and radio sources. And more than a quarter (26 percent) of local newspaper stories were local in nature, compared with 25 percent for online-only outlets, nine percent for TV and less than eight percent for radio.

“By all of the criteria we employed to assess local journalism output, local newspapers over-performed relative to their prominence amongst local media outlets,” reported James R. Shepley public policy professor Philip M. Napoli, one of the study’s authors, who wrote about the study’s findings for Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

The study, “Who’s Producing Local Journalism?” analyzed 16,000 news stories created by 663 local media outlets in 100 randomly-selected communities across the U.S. Findings were originally published by The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, Duke University’s hub for the study of journalism.