Local News Digital Adaptation Index

Local journalism provides civic connective tissue in communities around the United States. It shines light in dark places and bears witness to threats facing democracy in city halls and congressional districts. At its best, local journalism helps towns, cities and communities of interest solve problems. But local journalism is not only under economic pressure: it also faces big challenges as audiences increasingly prefer to engage with news online, using mobile devices and social media.

As the platform revolution renegotiates the relationship between audiences and information, it’s worth pausing and asking a series of fundamental questions of the thousands of local news outlets dotting the United States. How aggressive have local news publishers been about engaging their audiences on social platforms? How many have taken steps to enhance their users’ mobile engagement through features such as responsive web design and faster load times? How widespread is the use of familiar website ad tech, and have local publishers caught the digital video bug? How many publishers keep their content gated behind a paywall, or indeed have little to no digital footprint at all?

A local news digital adaptation index will address these questions, tracking the success of local news publishers as they adapt to an information environment that is increasingly mobile and networked. Through website and platform observations, the project will quantify the ways in which local news publishers are embracing, avoiding and innovating with digital technologies. With an analysis of a sample of print, broadcast, and digital publishers from around the U.S., the findings will speak not only to nationwide trends, but also regional ones. The insights gleaned here will offer a measured view at the bird's-eye level of the digital state of play in local news and will point in the direction things are going.

Project lead: Jesse Holcomb

April 01, 2018