I love studies of local news that focus directly on news consumers.
A new report from Delaware’s Local Journalism Initiative does just that. It includes extensive excerpts from interviews with a diverse group of more than 250 Delawareans about what they want and need from local news, and what they think has to change.
“While we deeply value the perspective of working journalists, our goal for this report was to center the perspectives of Delaware residents themselves, who have a broad range of awareness of and familiarity with the field of journalism and the crisis in local news,” coauthors Allison Taylor Levine and Fiona Morgan write. “Therefore, we intentionally limited the involvement of current local journalists in our formal community listening.”
Over a six-month period, Levine and Morgan collected Delawareans’ perspectives in a variety of ways: One-on-one interviews, focus groups, an open-invitation community conversation on Zoom, a text message survey conducted in partnership with Outlier Media, and an analysis of public data sources. The authors “intentionally oversampled for Black and Hispanic communities to ensure we heard from people who are historically underrepresented in similar studies,” they write. “We estimate that participants approximately reflect the state’s racial mix with some weighting to Black and Hispanic communities.”
The specific report is a portrait of just one state, but many of the takeaways apply to local news ecosystems in the other 49 states as well, and the report is a model for how surveys in other states might be done.
Here are a few general broad themes from the report and (many!) quotes from residents of Delaware.
Many Delawareans “do not have a reliable, formal source of local news and information.”
Sixty-five percent of respondents to Outlier’s text-based survey “mentioned a legitimate news source as a source of their information. Other sources people listed were ‘friends’ or ‘family’ or ‘online.’”
“Call it that I’m lazy or too busy, whichever one you pick, I don’t have time or desire to go to four or five different locations to get my information. I think we’re lacking a central place that I can go. When I get my national news, I go to one place. I have an app. I go to that major news network. That’s where I get all my national news, one place. That’s where I trust.” — Dover, Black man, 30s
“I’ll get my news from Channel Six, which is usually in Philadelphia. Only if something majorly happens — that’s if somebody died, fire, or severe, severe, severe news, that’s the only time Delaware is typically mentioned. And then for MOT [Middletown-Odessa-Townsend] to be mentioned, it had to be like, life-limb had to be lost.” — Middletown, Black woman, 40s
“I don’t listen to no news. What I do is, let’s say an election is coming up. I’ll talk to those individuals that I trust, that I know are plugged in. I’ll have conversations. And then I’ll spend probably about a few hours doing some research, and I’ll make a decision.” — Rehoboth Beach, Hispanic man, 50s
“I do not like it as much since [The News Journal] went more with the USA Today because I thought you’re just reverberating what I’m getting everywhere else. They lost the Delaware focus. Most people that I know look at The News Journal for the obituaries and that’s about it. And people even stopped in Sussex putting obituaries and because they were charging so much, they just said, ‘Forget it.’” — Sussex County, white woman, 60s
“I don’t want to miss out on anything, I want to get involved and know more about the town. So I belong to every single group on Facebook for Milford. That’s how I get my information. We also have Milford Live, an online newspaper, and we have DelawareOnline. But I follow all these pages and I still don’t get answers. Not even in the media I follow, and that’s what they do, right? That’s what they do for a living.” — Milford, Hispanic woman, 30s
“In the last four or five years, it’s mostly USA Today. There isn’t enough local news in The News Journal anymore, except for maybe crime. Crime seems to be covered pretty good. Fires and crime get a lot of play in The News Journal.” — Kent County, white woman, 60s
“We don’t have a neighborhood Facebook page. My neighborhood is actually just two streets, so really I use the Ring [app] as well. Flyers sometimes are put on our door with local events. But other than the app, if it wasn’t for that, I would never know what was really happening now that my children are young adults and out of school age.” — New Castle, Black woman, 40s
Delawareans want more information about local and state government.
“I think [news] could do a better job explaining what major bills will do and the impact it’ll have. Take away the Democrat-Republican stuff, take away the spending aspect, but just getting to the root of bills and explaining it on a basic level to people of what a certain bill will do.” — Wilmington, Black man, 20s
“Delaware’s a small state, but we are a mecca for corporate law. And a lot of people don’t understand what that means when it comes to economics and don’t understand what it means when it comes to creating jobs and buying houses. If you’re just a normal person…well, all these laws that are affecting you on a regular basis, you might have no idea what’s coming down the pipe. And then of course you’re not an informed voter. So, news is so vital for so many reasons. And I just think we’re cut short on a lot of it, unfortunately.” — Dover, Black man, 30s
“I always thought that there was space for The News Journal to try to create more of a niche to be taken seriously and do good, solid coverage of Dover and everything happening at Leg Hall and the governor’s office and whatever, the courts, the judicial system. You’re sitting in a state that is known around the world because of its courts and because of incorporations and business entities … and The News Journal doesn’t seem like it has ever cared about that.” — Eastern Sussex County, white man, 40s
“A lot of people probably don’t know you have to go to certain websites and look up what was made, what was constructed, whether it was passed or not. And then once it’s passed, there’s so much jargon involved. What does it actually mean? So that type of information put out in plain English for everyone to understand is super vital for those who want to grow and move forward in the State of Delaware.” — Dover, Black man, 30s
Local news is overly negative, especially news about communities and people of color.
“If DETV is 100% positive, then DelawareOnline is 200% negative….Recently, I read a negative story about a fourth-grader. What about the fourth-grader who won the spelling bee? For every three negative stories, they should publish four or five positive stories.” — Wilmington, Black woman, 30s
“Personally, I’d like to know more about local businesses that are opening, so I can see if I can support them, if they need my support.” — Frederica resident, Black man, 30s
“I want to see news that informs and empowers people, period. If there’s news that is relevant to my area, I want to know how it could help grow, empower, inform those around us…In no way is that murder/kill/death news empowering to me…Let’s say that the news is putting out that a new Amazon Fulfillment Center is being made. That’s facts. The empowerment is, what are you going to then do with that knowledge? How does that affect that community? That means that there’s most likely going to be jobs. So, if a person lives in that area and didn’t know that Amazon was coming in there, they now know that it’s big, it’s going to bring jobs, it’s going to affect the community. What can I do to prepare myself to — maybe if I’m down and out — to put myself out for a job? Maybe I start learning people, or maybe I can get into construction, or maybe that bit of information can empower me to stand up and do something in my community.” — Dover, Black man, 30s
There is not enough news for and about Black communities, period.
“Besides groups that cater to the Millennials, there is a total absence of the Black voice in Sussex County. They are not in the newspapers, they are not in the board rooms, they are not in the restaurants, they are not in the school systems. If you want to know what’s going on in the Black community, you’ll have to become Black and move in with a Black family because there is no other way to find out.” — Seaford, Black woman, 30s
“The Delaware Way is like, ‘We don’t want to talk about things that feel like they could be a division or things that could be controversial.’ That leads to a lot of stories that impact communities of color not really being told in the local newspapers.” — Wilmington, white man, 40s
“I’m raising three Black children…and I often see Black people painted in a light that is not favorable. It is something that has been ongoing, I’m sure, since news became news in this country. But when I look around the circles that I move in from church to social to work, if what I saw on the news was a true reflection of who we were as Black people, then I should see that around all my circles, and I don’t.” — Middletown-area, Black woman, 40s
“I don’t say anything on the [Facebook neighborhood] page, because I don’t want to have any problems with my neighbors.” — Middletown, Black man, 40s
“There’s a large Haitian population here. As a Haitian person who grew up here in Sussex County and navigated my way through Delaware, there isn’t a voice for the Haitian community…We love being in Delaware, and we must be at the table also.” — Seaford, Black/Haitian woman, 30s
Residents have a variety of thoughts on paying for news. They do understand it’s a business!
“A lot of the news that funnels in at least to my house for our area comes through those Facebook pages… And if I have to pay for that article, I’ll wait until somebody drops a PDF somewhere. I’m not going to pay for it.” — Middletown, Black woman, 40s
“I follow DelawareOnline’s Facebook page, but they charge a lot for their articles. I don’t read anything I have to pay for…Right now, I piece together a lot of information from different sites, but it would be great if there was one place that had all that information that was free. I would even possibly pay for it — if it was a dollar a month.” — Middletown, Black woman, 30s
“DelawareOnline — and I don’t blame them too much because it’s a business — but everything’s behind a paywall. That’s their right. They have to maintain their business industry. But you know, important information should not be behind a paywall. Feel-good stories, certainly. Op-eds, certainly.” — Wilmington, Black woman, 30s
“It’s insane just trying to navigate through all of the advertising and everything. I know they need to make a living. I know they need to sell advertising. I don’t know if there’s a way they can do that better. Or if there’s funders who would kind of supplement some of that so it’s not so egregious.” — Ellendale, white woman, 50s
Residents want more usable news: On education, housing, food shortages, inflation…
The report’s authors note that “At the time of publication, DelawareOnline/The News Journal currently had not filled its education reporter role. Delaware State News and the Cape Gazette had reporters doing some education coverage in specific school districts. The Newark Post has a good reputation for covering the Christina School District. Delaware Live recently hired an education reporter.”
“It’s a huge diversity and inclusion issue…For the [school] choice thing, I just started stalking the website to find out when it was going to happen, but that should be something that’s just very clearly posted somewhere. Like, ‘Hey, choice opens up this date and it’s going to close this date. Here’s the available schools.’ But you have to go searching and find that information for yourself if you have interest. And if a parent just unfortunately doesn’t have the time for that, their child’s going to be left behind, because it’s almost hidden information that the parent has to spend some time going to find.” — Middletown, Black woman, 30s
“Another challenge that I can see is trying to purchase groceries due to the fact that everytime [sic] I get off of work (which is at 3PM) there is never much left in groceries stores. I wish that there was more information about these shortages available. I mean yes I know we have change shortages but food shortages aren’t really talked about! I also worry about being able to afford groceries with the prices going up constantly.” — Text survey response, man, Bridgeville
“I didn’t know about the DEHAP (Delaware Housing Assistance Program) program that not only helps you with rental assistance, it also helps with down payment money as well as utility resources as well….The lady was saying that there are so many dollars just sitting, but people don’t know how to apply. They’re not provided information. And I feel like the positive things that a lot of these organizations and nonprofits are doing are not being recognized and it’s so difficult to have to hunt for that information.” — Seaford, Black woman, 30s
You can read the full report here.