It’s time to invest in the business of local media

Reviving local media to build trust and support among local communities is critical, urges Ciarán Murray, founder and CEO of Olas Foundation.

Local media has historically served as the cornerstone of community life in Ireland, providing trusted news that brings people together.

Today, local media continues to be among the top-five most trusted sources, with 70% relying on local radio and 69% on local newspapers for information.

“Local media plays a pivotal role in strengthening communities, enhancing civic engagement, and upholding the democratic values at the heart of Irish society”

However, this landscape is swiftly changing. The decline in local journalism across Ireland has sparked concerns about the formation of news deserts –areas without professional news services.

This decline poses serious threats to community unity and accurate information dissemination.

How did we get here?

Economic shifts, such as the transition from print advertising to digital platforms, have eroded traditional revenue streams. Local newspapers and radio stations, once sustained by local advertising, now struggle to compete with tech behemoths like Google and Meta, resulting in numerous closures and consolidations within the industry.

This is supplemented by the digital transformation that has disrupted traditional media models. Many local outlets have failed to adapt to online platforms, rendering them unable to attract younger audiences or generate sufficient digital revenue. The consolidation of media ownership has only aggravated the situation. With 26 of the 61 titles (print and online) represented by the Press Council owned by large international companies, local autonomy is reduced and editorial decisions are centralised away from the communities they serve.

Additionally, the scarcity of local journalism jobs is exacerbated by housing affordability issues. Newsrooms are increasingly centralised in major cities, with journalists often far removed from the communities they cover. The trend is evident across Ireland and the EU alike: newsrooms become centralised in the main cities with reporters occupying desk-based jobs far away from the communities they supposedly represent. A 2022 survey found that 60% of Irish under-35s cannot afford to live in the communities they would prefer, leading to fewer journalists on the ground. This disconnect is particularly evident in rapidly growing Dublin suburbs, like North County Dublin, which are on the verge of becoming news deserts.

Communities will suffer without local media

Without local media, community cohesion suffers as narratives, cultural events, and local achievements go unreported, as a result of losing a vital platform for dialogue and connection. This absence not only fragments communities but also undermines local businesses by limiting visibility, and risking stifling economic development. 

The steady collapse of local news also has major implications for democracy. The local and European elections are already attracting large amounts of disinformation and controversy. Well-resourced, high-quality journalism is an essential counterpoint to that. Democracy suffers as citizens become less engaged and more polarised as widespread disinformation flourishes unchecked.

Globally, the media landscape is increasingly dominated by a few large corporations, prompting concerns about media diversity and independence. This concentration of power often leads to homogenised news coverage that lacks the depth and context provided by on-the-ground journalism, with less attention to local issues and alternative viewpoints. 

To counteract these trends, harnessing public involvement in news is crucial. It is a significant market failure that journalism, a profession essential to democracy and community cohesion, is so poorly rewarded. Addressing this requires new institutional structures to sustain local journalism.

The crux of the matter is the sustainability of local journalism as a profession. This hinges on supporting and monetising journalists who live among and understand their communities. One promising approach is community-driven funding, which allocates resources based on community demand, ensuring that the most valued news receives the support it needs. Additionally, encouraging direct reader support through methods such as tipping not only creates long-term revenue streams but also upholds journalistic integrity.

As community activities increasingly move online, citizen journalism – in which everyone is a freelance journalist on social media and communications apps – grows. Embracing this phenomenon while adhering to strict journalism standards, as well as upholding codes of ethics and credibility, allows citizen journalists to contribute meaningfully to dedicated local reporting. This approach empowers community members to deliver real-time updates, cover hyper-local events, and offer diverse perspectives often overlooked by larger media outlets.

Public trust in journalism is foundational. Sustaining this trust necessitates governance structures that guarantee transparency, accountability, and adherence to stringent ethical standards. By reimagining the institutional frameworks we employ to deliver news, we can disrupt unsustainable journalism practices. The media industry’s persistent economic challenges and rapid consolidation underscore the urgency of exploring new approaches that harness technological breakthroughs. Addressing these complexities is vital for the future of journalism.

Local media plays a pivotal role in strengthening communities, enhancing civic engagement, and upholding the democratic values at the heart of Irish society. Business leaders and community members alike share a responsibility to support and champion local media for the benefit of all. 

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Main image at top: Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

Ciarán Murray
Ciarán Murray, CEO at Olas Foundation, is a seasoned veteran of the blockchain industry. Aside from advising on numerous blockchain projects down the years, and releasing a synthetics assets proof-of-concept last year, Ciarán previously worked in the media industry for British Sky Broadcasting. He is not only well placed to understand the issues facing the media industry but also how to apply blockchain and other distributed technologies to remedy them.