Life at Small-Market Newspapers: Results from a Survey of Small Market Newsrooms

Radcliffe, Damian; Ali, Christopher; Donald, Rosalind

The observations in this paper are based on the results of an online survey conducted between Monday, November 14 and Sunday, December 4, 2016. Survey respondents identified a number of key challenges for the sector, including: Shrinking newsrooms: More than half (59 percent) of our survey participants told us that the number of staff in their newsroom had shrunk since 2014. Recruitment: Low pay, long hours, and limited opportunities for career progression can impede the attraction and retention of young journalists. A long-hours culture: Many respondents reported that they regularly work more than 50 hours a week. Job security: Just over half of respondents (51 percent) said they feel secure in their positions. A further 29 percent had a neutral view (neither positive nor negative) about their job security.

Despite these considerations, we encountered a sense of optimism among much of our sample. This confidence is rooted in an understanding that small-market newspapers are often close to their communities—with journalists sharing similar goals and lives to their audience—and a recognition that much of their reporting is not replicated elsewhere. Nevertheless, respondents were also aware of emerging issues, such as establishing relevancy with the next generation of news consumers. Social media and emerging storytelling formats such as live video may help do this, and we found strong levels of interest in some of these spaces.

Subsequently, we believe a more nuanced conversation about this sector in required. The newspaper industry, even within this smaller stratum of newspapers, is far from homogeneous. Our conversations with local journalists found a cohort eager to know more about the experiences of their peers. As a result, we welcome moves to increase coverage of the local media sector by leading trade publications. Richer coverage and research of this industry will help to inform and inspire local journalists, policymakers, and funders alike.

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Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
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May 16, 2017