Why It’s Important to Take Stock of Oregon’s News Ecosystem

In light of these challenges and questions, it’s important to examine the supply of local news and information. At a time when our state faces unprecedented challenges, the availability of quality, trusted, and inclusive local news is critical.  

In this report, we offer a current snapshot of the number of news outlets in Oregon that regularly produce originally reported news about state and/or local public affairs – that is, news about local policies, community problems, and the like. We examine the quantity and the types of these outlets—large and small, legacy and start-up—that serve citizens in communities around Oregon. We identify communities that lack equal access to local news, and communities that are relatively well-served in terms of numbers of local news sources.  Taking stock in this way is an important first step toward assessing the health of local news in Oregon, and toward identifying opportunities and needed investments to improve the state’s informational infrastructure. And we delve deeper, providing context to this snapshot through in-depth interviews with over two dozen journalists and media-makers, leaders of civic and community organizations, and close observers of Oregon public affairs, to sketch a portrait of the current health of Oregon’s news and information ecosystem.1A list of interviewees is available in the Methods appendix.

Our quantitative data show that Oregonians are unequally served by local media and that some communities have very few places to turn for truly local news. Our interviews reveal that journalists and civic leaders are deeply worried about the state’s ability to grapple with its mounting challenges at a time when the number of news outlets is declining, news audiences are shrinking, and misinformation is on the rise. These findings raise concerns about the health of Oregon’s news and information infrastructure. 

At the same time, our findings show some promising innovations underway around the state. Digital start-ups are filling news gaps for some local communities around the state. Journalists and newsrooms are rethinking how to produce local news even as they face steadily shrinking resources – sometimes with the help of foundations, journalistic support organizations, and other newsrooms. However, the strong sense among those we spoke with is that more needs to be done.

Ultimately, we conclude, Oregon’s news and information infrastructure can be strengthened through higher-level innovations, collaborations and investments, not only by the news media themselves but by civic organizations, philanthropies, universities, and other entities with a stake in Oregon’s future. This effort calls out for deeper and more sustained investment because, as the research we review in these pages makes clear, the fate of local news is tied to the fate of our state’s civic health.

In this moment of unprecedented challenges, the time is ripe to invest in building a healthier civic infrastructure for news and information in Oregon. 

In the sections that follow, we first explain why local news is critically important to community life, drawing on a rapidly growing body of research and case studies that shows the linkages between the availability of local news and levels of civic engagement and public accountability. Drawing on existing research, we describe the significant losses in provision of local news around the United States and in Oregon. We then present findings from our own research to present a map of Oregon’s existing outlets that regularly produce local and civically-relevant news. Readers can find the map and data analysis in the “Mapping the Local News Ecosystem in Oregon” section.

We use two key terms in this report to refer to news and information as a critical resource for community civic life. The term “local news and information ecosystem” describes “the network of institutions, collaborations, and people that local communities rely on for news, information, and engagement.”2What is a local news ecosystem?” (accessed 26 August 2022), Democracy Fund. This metaphor compares the supply of information to the availability of natural resources like clean air and water: Just as the physical health of a community depends on the quality of its natural environment, the civic health of communities depends on the flow and quality of news and information.3 “Informing Communities: Sustaining democracy in the digital age,” (2009) The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. As valuable as the ecosystem metaphor is, however, it can obscure the critical role of human intervention and investment in creating and sustaining the conditions for civic health.4Anthony Nadler, “Nature’s economy and news ecology: Scrutinizing the news ecosystem metaphor,” Journalism Studies (2019) 20(6), pp. 823-39. Therefore, we also describe news as a crucial element of  “civic infrastructure,” akin to the roads, schools, and libraries that make democratic society possible.5 See Fiona Morgan, “Stronger together: How journalism fits into civic infrastructure,” Medium (5 August 2022); Aspen Institute, “Local news is critical infrastructure. It’s time we treat it that way,” (6 July 2022).

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