Local News Attracts Readers p.12

By: TONY CASE EWSPAPER READERS ARE much more interested in local news than they are national and international reporting, according to a new survey. But some community leaders maintain that coverage of their neighborhoods could be better.
The Washington Post poll, whose findings were released at the Newspaper Association of America convention this week, revealed that 70% of regular newspaper readers were very interested in local coverage, whereas only 56% were equally concerned with national reporting and just 23% closely followed news from abroad.
Newspapers emerged as the principal source of local news among those who routinely read the paper, as well. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they turned to the newspaper for hometown coverage, compared with 38% who got their local news from television and 6% who listened to the radio.
And a recent NAA survey of editors and publishers found that Americans considered local news the most valued element of the newspaper, followed by obituaries, classified and display advertising, and sports coverage.
"It's clear to us that local news is the franchise," Post polling director Richard Morin, who conducted the reader study for NAA, told publishers meeting in New York. "Perhaps more than ever, readers primarily use the newspaper as a source for what's going on in their communities."
But while local reporting might interest readers, apparently newspapers aren't doing a very good job of it.
Morin found that of regular newspaper buyers, 39% said the paper was only fairly useful in helping them deal with their day-to-day lives, 28% didn't find the paper very effective and 16% thought it wasn't at all helpful. A dismal 15% found newspapers effective in addressing their workaday concerns.
During a discussion at the NAA meeting, panelists suggested areas that newspapers need to address in terms of local coverage.
Take education. Smith College president Ruth Simmons accused the press of perpetuating stereotypes about education in America.
If one were to believe what he read in his daily paper, the educator observed, he would think schools are "awash in incompetent, uninterested and self-serving professionals, that leadership in education is totally wanting, that immorality and perversion reign throughout schools and colleges, that children are completely unsafe in school from violence and drugs, that innumeracy and illiteracy are the rule among graduates," and the list goes on.
But it is only a myth, Simmons insisted, that the educational system in this country is but a shadow of what it was 40 years ago.
And remember diversity?
While diversity was a hot topic in the newspaper business a few years back, many complain the issue has taken a back seat as staff cutbacks throughout the industry have accelerated.
But San Jose Police Chief Louis Cobarruviaz pleaded with the publishers to continue striving to reflect their multicultural readership in both hiring and news coverage.
"There's a lot of work that has to be done there in order to understand what's going on in each of those communities and to report accurately what's taking place," he said.
At the same time, he warned newspapers to be cautious about toeing the politically correct line in regard to their reporting.
The media in San Jose once cranked out some fine stories on the area's Hispanic gang problem, Cobarruviaz pointed out, but began to back off after some Hispanics complained that the coverage put their community in a negative light.
Likewise, he added, conflicts in the city's Vietnamese neighborhoods don't get much press.
"I don't see a lot of reporting in terms of what's actually going on in detail in some of these communities, and this has an impact on the beats of our city," the police chief said.
Cobarruviaz is hopeful, though, that new Spanish-language and Vietnamese sections of the local daily, the San Jose Mercury News, will enhance reporting of those groups.
And Morin urged the daily press, which in recent times has stepped up coverage of minorities and those districts heavily populated by minorities, to go one step further and recognize the "diversity within diversity."
He explained: "Our local communities are collections of different communities with very different news interests and news needs ? some are reported, and some are ignored. It is incomplete to talk about, quote the black community or Asian Americans or evangelical Christians, as if each were an easily identifiable, categorizable and homogeneous group."
Furthermore, readers want newspapers to report on positive developments in their communities and explore solutions to the problems they face, Morin said ? rather than to simply concentrate on what's wrong.


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