Is Social Media Killing Local News? An Examination of Engagement and Ownership Patterns in U.S. Community News on Facebook

Benjamin J Toff, Nicholas Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article focuses on two forces linked to declines in coverage of genuinely local civic affairs: (a) the impact of increasing corporate consolidation in ownership among news providers, and (b) the degree to which the economic incentives and logics of digital platforms may also drive editorial decision-making at news organizations away from coverage of local news. Using a unique dataset of 2.4 million Facebook posts published by local news organizations in three U.S. states between 2018 and 2019, we find evidence that both factors matter. Long-running trends towards conglomeration in the industry have a demonstrable impact on how much and what kinds of local news gets posted on the site, but we also find that the platform itself may incentivize certain types of coverage over others. Specifically, we find organizations owned by chains are more likely to post duplicative, repurposed content that receive fewer interactions per post—evidence of quantity being valued over quality—as well as higher rates of engagement with national, hard news stories over unique content about local affairs. Findings shed light on how Facebook—combined with media ownership structures—may hinder the task of serving local communities with original news that satisfies important civic needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDigital Journalism
Early online dateOct 2021
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 8 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Following completion of the analysis in this study, the first author was appointed to a position as a Senior Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism to oversee an unrelated project supported by a grant from Facebook.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • analytics
  • audience research
  • Facebook
  • Local news
  • media ecosystems
  • news deserts
  • online news
  • social media

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