Michael O'connell and Penny Muse Abernathy

383. Public good vs private enterprise: sustainability in local news

Should readers pay for local news as a private enterprise or should local news be subsidized with government funding? News sustainability experts pondered this question Monday during a policy discussion at Gallup World Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The event was timed to coincide with the release of a new report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation about the importance of local news and Americans’ willingness to support it.

Penny Muse Abernathy, the Knight chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, moderated the panel, which consisted of Howard Husock, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Chris Lewis, president and CEO of Public Knowledge; and Danielle Coffey, senior vice president and general counsel for the News Media Alliance.

The report, which is based on a series of panel surveys with 1,300 respondents each, found that 8 in 10 people believe that everyone should have access to local news, even if they don’t pay for it.

The survey also revealed that more Americans trust local news over national news — 45 percent compared to 31 percent.

When the data is viewed through a political lenses, though, trust in local news appears to be vulnerable to partisan bias. Of Republicans who took the survey, only 34 percent said they trusted local news organizations compared to 57 percent of Democrats. While an almost identical number of Democrats (56 percent) said they trusted national news organizations, only 9 percent of Republicans said they did.

Penny Muse Abernathy, author of Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability and The Expanding News Desert, sat down with It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell to discuss Public Good or Private Enterprise? A Policy Discussion on the Future of Local News. The Nov. 18 discussion coincided with the release of a new report by Gallup and the Knight Foundation looking at the importance of local news to our democracy and the public’s willingness to support it.

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