PREDICTION 2020 : A big year for little newspapers

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BY  SARA K. BARANOWSKI   Source : Nieman lab

We don’t have to rely on Facebook Groups or ticketed events to reach readers.Many small news organizations position journalists closer to their audience.

The attention of the news industry, which has been focused in recent years on local journalism, will dial in even deeper in 2020, to small markets — newspapers with circulations of 50,000 or less that are often the only publications covering their communities. Challenges abound for organizations of all sizes, but small markets are uniquely positioned to combat them.

The temptation for journalists to work at national and regional news organizations is strong, but as the companies that own those organizations merge and identify efficiencies, the number of journalists in those newsrooms will continue to shrink. There were more than 3,000 media layoffs in 2019 and more will surely come in the new year. Smaller newspapers — especially those that are still independently owned — are becoming attractive places to work, and not just because of the job security many of them offer. They also boast unique opportunities for journalists looking to connect with their audience and serve a community.

Many small news organizations position journalists closer to their audience. We don’t have to rely on Facebook Groups or ticketed events to reach readers. Instead, we can find them in a local coffee shop, at the library, or even in our offices, looking to connect with us.

And for the most part, those readers trust us. Small-market newspapers aren’t seen as “the media,” but as a reliable source — sometimes the only source — of local information. Community journalists are trusted to tell stories, explain local government decisions and share what’s happening in the community. In many towns, they’re the only reporter at public meetings, and the local newspaper is the only outlet printing information about property tax increases, school policy changes, and the road project that’s going to disrupt traffic next summer. And, as studies have shown, without a local news outlet, the community suffers.

As important as this work is, many small-market newspapers struggle to recruit journalists. But as layoffs persist, and journalists at larger publications grow frustrated with the expectations and restrictions placed on them, they’ll go looking for change and find small towns where jobs are waiting for them. Whereas small newspapers have struggled in the past to find the money to train journalists or undertake special projects, grant funding is making that easier. Small organizations that come up with new projects — or work collaboratively with other small organizations — can receive grants to learn new skills, test ideas, and find ways around the roadblocks to growth and advancement. In many ways, smaller organizations are more nimble. New ideas can be tested — often for little or no cost — and tweaked as needed until the right formula clicks with the audience. No need to convince an entire organizational chart to get behind a new digital project. If you can find a way, you can try it.

The opportunities that exist at small newspapers don’t end with the newsroom. Many of these organizations are still independently owned, and as those owners reach retirement age, they’re looking for someone they can trust to take over the operation and keep it growing and serving the community. Why can’t it be the journalists in the newsroom? West Virginia University and the West Virginia Press Association have partnered to launch a new fellowship in 2020 that will train journalists to buy and run a successful small newspaper.

If you’re looking for jaw-droppingly beautiful animated interactives and far-reaching global investigations, stick with the big national organizations. But if you’re interested in high-impact local reporting that experiments with new formats and audience engagement, keep an eye on the small markets. 2020 will be the start of a new and exciting era for community news. It’s going to be a big year for the little guys.

EXTRA READ : PREDICTIONS 2020


Each year, Nieman Lab asks some of the smartest people in journalism what they think is coming in the new year. Here are their predictions for 2020.

  1. ERNIE SMITH   The death of the industry fad
  2. TANYA CORDREY   Saying no to more good ideas
  3. MIRA LOWE   The year of student-powered journalism
  4. TALIA STROUD   The work of reconnecting starts November 4
  5. PABLO BOCZKOWSKI   The day after November 4
  6. MILLIE TRAN   Wicked
  7. IRVING WASHINGTON   Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job
  8. MEREDITH ARTLEY   Stronger solidarity among news organizations
  9. CRISTINA KIM   Public media stops trying to serve “everybody”
  10. ELIZABETH DUNBAR   Frank talk, and then action
  11. SONALI PRASAD   Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional
  12. SARAH STONBELY   More people start caring about news inequality
  13. JEREMY GILBERT AND JARROD DICKER   A call for collaboration between storytelling and tech
  14. JAKOB MOLL   A slow-moving tech backlash among young people
  15. RANEY ARONSON-RATH   News deserts will proliferate — but so will new solutions
  16. PETER BALE   Lies get further normalized
  17. MARIO GARCÍA   Think small (screen)
  18. JASMINE MCNEALY   A call for context
  19. EMILY WITHROW   The year we kill the news article
  20. FRANCESCO ZAFFARANO   TikTok without generational prejudice
  21. CARL BIALIK   Journalists will try running the whole shop
  22. STEFANIE MURRAY   Charitable giving goes collaborative
  23. MONIQUE JUDGE   The year to organize, unionize, and fight
  24. MIKE CAULFIELD   Native verification tools for the blue checkmark crowd
  25. TAMAR CHARNEY   From broadcast to bespoke
  26. KNIGHT FOUNDATION   Five generations of journalists, learning from each other
  27. CINDY ROYAL   Prepare media students for skills, not job titles
  28. KOURTNEY BITTERLY   Transparency isn’t just a desire, it’s an expectation
  29. JAMES WAHUTU   Western journalists, learn from your African peers
  30. MARGARITA NORIEGA   The platforms try to figure out what to do with single-subject newsrooms
  31. IMAEYEN IBANGA   Let’s take it slow
  32. M. SCOTT HAVENS   First-party data becomes media’s most important currency
  33. TOM GLAISYER   Journalism can emerge newly vibrant and powerful
  34. HELEN HAVLAK   Platforms shine a light on original reporting
  35. SARAH SCHMALBACH   Journalist, quantify thyself
  36. ERRIN HAINES   Race and gender aren’t a 2020 story — they’re the story
  37. NICHOLAS JACKSON   What’s left of local gets comfortable with reader support
  38. MONICA DRAKE   A renewed focus on misinformation
  39. ANNIE RUDD   The expanded ambiguity of the news photograph
  40. KEVIN DOUGLAS GRANT   The free press stands against authoritarians’ attacks on truth
  41. CANDIS CALLISON   Taking a cue from Indigenous journalists on climate change
  42. JONI DEUTSCH   Podcasting unsilences the silent
  43. CARRIE BROWN-SMITH   Engaged journalism: It’s finally happening
  44. JEREMY OLSHAN   All journalism should be service journalism
  45. WHITNEY PHILLIPS   A time to question core beliefs
  46. GENEVA OVERHOLSER   Death to bothsidesism
  47. MORENO CRUZ OSÓRIO   In Brazil, collaboration in a time of state attacks
  48. ALICE ANTHEAUME   Trade “politics” for “power”
  49. JULEYKA LANTIGUA-WILLIAMS   A changing industry amps up podcasters’ ambitions
  50. A.J. BAUER   A fork in the road for conservative media