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Assessing the Health of
Local Journalism Ecosystems

A Comparative Analysis of Three New Jersey Communities

A Report Prepared for the Democracy Fund, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
June 2015
This new study, supported by the Democracy Fund, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation suggests that there are substantial differences in the quantity and quality of the local journalism produced within communities of different sizes and income levels. In this study, researchers examined the journalistic infrastructure, output, and performance in the New Jersey communities of Newark, New Brunswick, and Morristown.

The researchers analyzed one week of online journalism output across these three communities, focusing on both the home page content and social media (Facebook and Twitter) postings for all television, radio, print, and online journalism sources that could be located within these communities.

The results indicate substantial differences in the journalism infrastructure, output and performance across these three communities, particularly when controlling for differences in population size. In terms of infrastructure, the results show substantial differences, when controlling for population size, in terms of the number of journalism sources operating within each of these three communities. Newark, for instance, contains .58 journalistic sources per 10,000 capita; compared with 2.36 for New Brunswick and 6.11 for Morristown.

These pronounced differences in the availability of sources of journalism were then reflected in the journalistic output produced within these three communities. For instance, during the measurement period, Morristown journalism sources produced 23 times more news stories and 20 times more social media posts per 10,000 capita than Newark journalism sources, and 2.5 times more news stories and 3.4 times more social media posts per 10,000 capita than New Brunswick journalism sources. New Brunswick journalism sources produced 9.3 times more news stories and six times more social media posts per 10,000 capita than Newark journalism sources. In terms of performance, similar differences across the three communities often persisted when the researchers focused on aspects of the quality of local journalism, such as the extent to which the stories were original (rather than repostings or links to other sources); the extent to which the stories were about the local community; and the extent to which the stories addressed critical information needs, such as education, health, and civic and political life.

While it is difficult to generalize from a study of only three communities, these findings potentially point to a problem in local journalism, in which lower-income communities may be underserved relative to wealthier communities. The researchers intend to address this issue further by applying the methodology and performance metrics developed for this project to a larger sample of communities, an effort to better understand the factors related to the health of local journalism.

About the Authors:

Philip M. Napoli is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, where he leads the Media + the Public Interest Initiative and is the Principal Investigator of the News Measures Research Project.

Sarah Stonbely received her PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and is a Research Associate with the News Measures Research Project.

Kathleen McCollough is a doctoral candidate in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University and a Graduate Assistant with the News Measures Research Project.

Bryce Renninger is a doctoral candidate in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University and a Research Assistant with the News Measures Research Project.