Local News in a Digital World: Small-Market Newspapers in the Digital Age

Radcliffe, Damian; Ali, Christopher

Too often we tend to hear one single narrative about the state of newspapers in the United States. The newspaper industry is not one sector. While there are considerable variances between the myriad of outlets—whether national titles, major metros, dailies in large towns, alt weeklies, publications in rural communities, ethnic press, and so on—a major challenge for anyone trying to make sense of industry data is its aggregated nature. It’s nearly impossible to deduce trends or characteristics at a more granular level.
The story of local newspapers with circulations below 50,000, or what we call “small-market newspapers,” tends to get overlooked due to the narrative dominance of larger players. However, small-market publications represent a major cohort that we as a community of researchers know very little about, and a community of practitioners that too often—we were told—knows little about itself.
Our study seeks to help redress this recent imbalance. We embarked on our research with a relatively simple yet ambitious research question: How are small-market newspapers responding to digital disruption?
From the data collected in our research, we also strove to report on the future of small-market newspapers by asking: How can small-market newspapers best prepare for the future?
Our research findings are based on interviews with fifty-three experts from across the publishing industry, academia, and foundations with a strong interest in the local news landscape. So as to make a fair assessment of the topic’s placement against a wider news background, we did not limit ourselves just to those with immediate connection to small-market newspapers. From these conversations and our own analysis, seven key themes emerged.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
Published Here
November 15, 2017