Study points to big gaps in Delaware news coverage

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Downstate, southern New Castle County, and Black communities most affected

A new study shows that Delawareans want and need better access to local news and information throughout the state, particularly in Kent, Sussex and southern New Castle counties, and in Black communities statewide. 

The Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware Tuesday released Delaware’s Local News & Information Ecosystem Assessment: Key Findings and Opportunities, a research project that explores how Delaware residents consume local news and information, analyzes gaps in coverage, and provides a set of recommendations.

The study, which included focus groups, pointed to corporate consolidation, slashed news staffs, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the drop-off in print revenues as factors that led areas such as fast-growing Middletown, becoming potential “news deserts” with little local coverage.

“Delawareans resoundingly told us that they want and need better access to trustworthy local news and information so they can thrive, participate fully in our democracy, and build strong, connected communities,” LJI President and founder Allison Taylor Levine said. “Lack of local news and information affects everyone. How do you enroll a child in school, know when to vote, or learn why some people wear masks while others go without?”

Excerpt from the report

The News Journal recently cut its Saturday print edition. The Delaware State News is down to an editorial staff of 17 from its height of 46 in 1996. The State News also announced in May that it will cut from printing daily to five days a week, beginning July 1. The State News’ parent company, Independent Newsmedia, Inc., shut down two of its dailies and three of its weeklies in recent years. WDEL is down to eight editorial staff from its peak of 12 in approximately 2010. WILM eliminated all local coverage in 2011. 

The study included more than 250 Delaware residents representing various geographic, socioeconomic, political, ethnic, and gender groups. Participants engaged in the study via focus groups, community conversations, and text-message surveys over a six-month period. The study also included analyses of several public data sources. 

Key findings

  • Delawareans value local news and information, which they want and need more. 
  • Delawareans lack reliable, formal sources of local news and information. Most rely on word of mouth or crowdsourced social media (e.g., Facebook groups, NextDoor, Twitter).
  • There are information deserts in the state – significant geographic areas that receive little, if any, media coverage.
  • Delawareans say local news does not fairly represent historically underrepresented communities, particularly Black communities.
  • Delawareans need better access to information about resources available to help them thrive and engage in our communities, including access to Delaware government information 
  • Delawareans feel disconnected and disengaged from local news reporters and editors. 
  • Delawareans say local news is overly negative and disempowering. They want information that empowers them to advance solutions in their communities.

Recommendations

  • Build reporting capacity to address community information gaps.
  • Increase access to public records and government information.
  • Increase access to accurate voter information..
  • Increase the public’s ability to influence public policy decisions.
  • Increase community access to information about government and charitable resources.
  • Increase diversity within Delaware’s newsrooms.
  • – Increase communities’ connection to newsrooms.

To begin to address these recommendations, LJI is launching two initiatives – the Delaware Journalism Collaborative and an internship program in partnership with the Delaware Community Foundation and Maryland Delaware DC Press Association. LJI also will use the report to evaluate additional projects and build its strategic plan for the next several years. Delaware Business Now plans to be part of the Journalism Collaborative.

LJI completed the study in response to the local news crisis in Delaware and nationwide. In 2020 alone, more than 60 local newsrooms around the country shut down and 37,000 newsroom employees were laid off, furloughed, or had their pay cut.  

In recent years, Delaware’s local news outlets – print, broadcast, and digital – have been forced to cut their editorial staffs in size and experience; cut the quantity, quality, and timeliness of their coverage; and, in some cases, shut down completely. The situation worsened during the pandemic as newsrooms’ revenue dropped even further while the public’s demand for trustworthy local news and information skyrocketed. 

“We cannot do this alone,” Levine said. “We hope this report will help us build partnerships and support the progress of other Delaware organizations working on these issues. We need philanthropists, government officials, nonprofit leaders, individuals, and community groups of all kinds to improve our local news and information ecosystem.”

This report was funded by the Independence Public Media Foundation, Welfare Foundation, Delaware Community Foundation, United Way of Delaware, Discover Bank, M&T Bank, Delaware Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

LJI is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, currently operating its programs through a fiscal sponsorship fund of the Delaware Community Foundation. LJI’s mission is to strengthen local journalism as a vehicle for a stronger democracy and thriving communities throughout the First State. LJI is not affiliated with any media organization.

A copy of the report is below