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Mississippi Summit Discusses Innovative Approaches to Revitalize Local News Infrastructure

"Journalists discussing at University"

Local News Infrastructure Reframed at Summit in University of Mississippi

In a recently concluded summit at the University of Mississippi, journalists, lawmakers, and news investors fiercely debated over the future of local journalism across Mississippi. Industry experts agreed on investing in an innovative, collaborative business model to tackle the industry’s numerous challenges, particularly in staffing and reaching rural communities.

Combatting News Desert

“In communities where there’s no local news, you have people who’ve checked out completely,” said a representative from a hybrid business that invests in journalism and other social justice initiatives. The representative argued that local news is a critical lynchpin for a thriving democracy, particularly in ensuring that voters can make informed decisions.

To address this issue, the summit sought to bridge gaps across news platforms by inviting journalists from varying backgrounds—digital, print, and broadcast. These journalists were asked to reconsider the historically competitive structure of the local news industry.

A Systematic Shift

Organizers acknowledged the pressing need to tackle news deserts in Mississippi and discussed ways to fill gaps in journalism funding. “It’s pretty clear that traditional business models of relying solely on paying subscribers or advertisers are struggling to find new audiences and just don’t have longevity,” stated the Dean of the School of Journalism and New Media.

Prominent industry funders have shown an increasing acceptance of their pivotal role in supporting local journalism. However, it was recognized that they often lack an understanding of the communities they serve. Therefore, the summit highlighted the importance of fostering stronger relationships with local communities.

Role of Public Policy

An advocate from a nonpartisan nonprofit, emphasizing the importance of journalism as a public good, insisted that public policy should play a crucial role in its support. “News is a public good, and public goods deserve public support. The public policy piece of this has to be part of the discussion. It can’t just be on newsrooms to find revenue somewhere.”

Path for Future Advocacy

The summit discussed potential advocacy efforts necessary to demonstrate journalism’s importance to the public and address the industry’s struggles, using 2024 research that found the public perception of local news outlets’ financial health is far rosier than the reality. With the rise of shuttered local newsrooms in recent years, the need for a nuanced discussion on the role of journalism in society was emphasized.

The University: A Neutral Ground

The summit spotlighted the importance of the university as a neutral platform to foster discussions on the relationship between journalism, communities, and democracy. It concluded with a kickoff celebration for a new center aiming to restore news integrity and help everyone discern accurate reporting better.

The university will begin a search for the center’s director this summer. “We’re really hoping that at a flagship place that really cares about educating, we can educate people about the value of journalism,” said the Dean of the School of Journalism and New Media.

HERE Oxford
Author: HERE Oxford

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