George Orwell, the author of “Animal Farm” and “1984” once said, “The people will believe what the media tells them they believe.”
Following the adversity of 2020 and a rocky start to 2021, the last thing Americans desire is to be told what to believe. For many Americans, the political polarization of national outlets has been overwhelming. Faith in the national media has turned to cynicism. Yet, hope lies at the local level.
A Knight-Gallup survey found that 60% of Americans believe that local news is accomplishing most of the critical tasks to inform communities. Local outlets push past politics and conflict to deliver more relevant information and stories that better serve a dedicated audience.
The same survey found people’s trust in national media soured in comparison to local outlets. National unrest and the political coverage of COVID-19 probably account for some of the distrust. What’s more, Pew Research found that the national media is less trusted than local outlets to deliver facts about the pandemic.
According to an Axios report on Jan. 21, trust in traditional media is at an all-time low and 56% of Americans think journalists and reporters intentionally deceive their audiences by saying things that are either exaggerations or lies. Bottom line — people do not trust the way mainstream media reports stories.
At the same time, almost half of Americans 29 and under use social platforms as their primary news source. Young Americans turned to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube en masse, but shortened attention spans and algorithms that focus on engagement push provocative content and create echo chambers where interactions often result in hardened hearts instead of reduced division. Not to mention, the anonymity of online activity breeds hateful comments and deplorable remarks. Finding out what really matters from friends, followers and influencers has become almost impossible amid the cacophony of bitterness.
In contrast, local outlets help people digest the most relevant news in ways that are more personal and practical. For example, the Athens Banner-Herald informed people eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine about the new drive-thru option in Athens. A local outlet near my hometown, the Marietta Daily Journal, reported the liability protection for Georgia businesses to avoid coronavirus lawsuits may be extended in Georgia until July 14, 2022, contingent on passing through the Georgia Assembly. Facts such as these are much more important to your life and livelihood than the drama of the day playing out in your feed.
Furthermore, topics like the opportunity to play golf in Sanford Stadium or the latest discussions from local governments gain little attention on social media or the national level. Local news gives people interesting stories and activities that impact their lives right here in Athens and in your hometowns too.
Not to mention, the journalists that write local news live in these communities. Their interest in the news stems from being a local instead of an outsider. This gives stories an added level of credibility because they communicate issues that matter inherently to the journalists and the community at large.
Local news presented the pandemic and racial unrest credibly — in ways easy to understand and digest for you, your neighbors and the broader community. In a nation shaded in red and blue, local news tends to be more moderate and encompassing of its audience, unlike some divisive players at the national level. Plus, more engagement with local sources yields revenue to deliver even better reporting and more relevant stories.
Take back your ability to determine your beliefs by reading local, smaller papers.