Here's why we should be encouraged by local journalism

Learn more about William McKenzie.
William McKenzie
Senior Editorial Advisor
George W. Bush Institute

Not all is lost in local journalism, even though more than half of American counties have no local news source or only one outlet, often a weekly newspaper. Here are two encouraging signs: 

First, Lookout Santa Cruz, City Bureau, and the Invisible Institute won Pulitzer Prizes this month. The former for breaking news reporting on devastating floods and mudslides in its California coastal town. Journalists for the latter two shared the local reporting prize for a collaborative investigative series on missing Black women and girls in Chicago. What’s more, the Invisible Institute won a second Pulitzer for audio reporting. This hyperlocal coverage comes from three digital news operations that focus deeply on their communities and neighborhoods. 

Longtime newspaper executive and media analyst Ken Doctor started the digital-only Lookout Santa Cruz in 2020. The parent company, Lookout Local, now is launching a site in Eugene, Oregon. 

The nonprofit City Bureau began in 2015 to cover the south and west sides of Chicago. The Invisible Institute grew out of a larger project focusing on Chicago’s South Side.  

Call their successes points of light in local journalism. 

Second, the Pew Research Center’s latest in-depth study of local news shows that 85% of Americans believe local news organizations are at least somewhat important to their communities. And 44% believe the organizations are extremely or very important to their towns and cities. 

True, Pew found a declining share of Americans follow local news, just as fewer people follow national news. Still, an increasing share of respondents believe local journalists are in touch with their communities – 69% in 2024 versus 63% in 2018. And that local news organizations report accurately (71%), cover key stories (68%), are transparent about their work (63%), and watch local leaders (61%). 

Is more work needed to improve those numbers? Of course. But the strength of our democracy rests on the health of our communities. And robust local journalism is one sure way to bolster our communities.