This report builds on a growing body of research showing the critical importance of local news to community civic health, and maps the current supply of local news in Oregon by counting the number of news outlets that regularly produce original state and local news. At a time when journalism is challenged economically, technologically, politically, and culturally – and when our state itself faces unprecedented challenges – we believe it is vitally important to identify ways to strengthen the “civic infrastructure” of news and information. This report offers a first step.
Readers familiar with research about the national crisis in local news and the critical relationship between local news and civic health may wish to skim the opening sections of this report and focus on sections V – X. For other readers, the material in sections I – IV will offer important context for why we produced this report.
As explained in the pages that follow, mapping local news ecosystems is neither quick nor simple, and the snapshot provided here is undoubtedly incomplete – which is why we provide the opportunity for readers to see and offer feedback on our data. Despite the challenges, documenting Oregon’s local news outlets–both legacy and start-up–is an essential first step toward understanding the flow of news and information in communities across the state.
We also present insights from conversations with over two dozen journalists, community organization leaders, experts, and other civic leaders who spoke frankly about their concerns for the future of news and civic life in Oregon. Together with our mapping exercise, these conversations highlighted opportunities for building up the supply of local news and information around our state. At a time when journalism is challenged economically, technologically, politically, and culturally – and when our state itself faces unprecedented challenges – we believe it is vitally important to identify ways to strengthen the “civic infrastructure” of news and information.
We see this report as a starting place for what needs to be an ongoing discussion. Where are Oregonians turning for news and information – including beyond traditional journalism? Community organizations, government agencies, and local institutions like libraries and community centers are all important sources of civic information. So are the many online resources, from freelance journalists’ social media feeds to local microbloggers, that contribute to Oregonians’ information about community life but that are difficult to “map.” Ongoing conversations will be critical to fully mapping Oregon’s news and information infrastructure. We hope that you will engage in this ongoing conversation by adding your feedback. You can find our interactive data map and a feedback form at https://sojc.link/news-eco-22.
This work is an outgrowth of the Agora Journalism Center’s mission to be a forum for the future of local news and civic health. We build here on previous work by ourselves and our colleagues in the School of Journalism and Communication that has illuminated the current state and future prospects for local news in Oregon. This includes reports in 2017 and 2019 by our colleague Damian Radcliffe that outlined how local news matters and practical steps newsrooms around the region have been taking to adjust to today’s more complex environment for local news,1 Damian Radcliffe, “Local journalism in the Pacific Northwest: Why it matters, how it’s evolving, and who pays for it.” University of Oregon, Agora Report (15 September 2017); “Shifting practices for a stronger tomorrow: Local journalism in the Pacific Northwest,” (26 November 2019). and a report called The 32 Percent Project, authored by Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn, that explores the roots of the public’s declining trust in the news media.2 Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn, “The 32 Percent Project: How citizens define trust and how journalists can earn it,” (3 October 2018), Agora Journalism Center.
We also build here on an initial set of in-person and virtual convenings we organized (with the support of the Oregon Community Foundation and in collaboration with OPB and Oregon Values and Beliefs Center) to better understand where Oregonians turn for information about their communities, where they see gaps, and how to strengthen existing and create new sources of civically-relevant information. Against the backdrop of dozens of convenings of journalists, thought leaders, and community members that Agora has hosted since its founding in 2014, this report represents Agora’s ongoing commitment to improving the inextricably linked prospects for innovative, community-centered journalism and a healthy democracy.
We hope this report will spur serious conversation and concrete action to improve the health of Oregon’s local news ecosystem–and present a framework for mapping local news ecosystems that may be replicable in other contexts. Newsrooms will find here examples of collaborative journalism that can help them leverage shrinking resources for greater statewide impact, and links to various support organizations that are helping news outlets chart a course forward. Institutions of higher education — including our own — can find compiled here a growing body of research on the relationship between local news and civic health— research that should guide the development of curriculum and training for future journalists.
Philanthropists and other potential funders can also find here a strong case for the civic importance of local news. The research reported here makes clear that communities’ ability to solve social problems rests in part on the quality and accessibility of the information that shapes their shared engagement with and understanding of those problems. To address our state’s many challenges requires strengthening the underlying infrastructure for local news and information. That is a problem that policy makers also need to act on. They will find in this report research that can bolster the case for interventions to support local news
- Andrew DeVigal, Director, Agora Journalism Center
- Regina G. Lawrence, Research Director, Agora Journalism Center
As with all good things in civic life, this report would not have been possible without a community of people – in this case, a community of those who care about the future of Oregon. We want to thank the many journalists, civic and community leaders, and experts who helped us craft this report, particularly those who shared their insights on journalism and civic life in our state. We also want to thank the good folks at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, the Jackson Foundation, and the Oregon Community Foundation, whose support and collaboration has allowed us to learn from a larger swath of Oregonians about the information ecosystem they want and need. Special thanks also go to those who read earlier drafts of this report, including Jordan Anderson, Damian Radcliffe, Seth Lewis, Lee Shaker, John Schrag, and Amaury Vogel; any mistakes or misinterpretations here remain our own. Thank you also to Natalie Schechtel for her design assistance.
Lawrence, R.G., Tabor, C., Nicolosi, M., and DeVigal, A. (October 2022). Assessing Oregon’s Local News & Information Ecosystem Connecting news, information, and civic health. Agora Journalism Center.
Date of publication: October 2022