Civics: Journalists perceive stories published in local news outlets to be less newsworthy

Mark Coddington & Seth Lewis

Hassell found that journalists saw a story published by a national newspaper as being no more newsworthy than the same story having gone unpublished, or published by a mid-sized paper. This held true whether journalists were asked about newsworthiness in the eyes of their audiences or their editors — the latter intended as a measurement of competitively motivated perception.

But while national publication didn’t give stories a newsworthiness boost, local newspapers fared even worse. A story published by a local newspaper was seen as less newsworthy than one that hadn’t been published at all. Not surprisingly, this effect was stronger among journalists who didn’t work for small, local papers.

The study’s findings suggest that journalists’ follow-the-leader approach to national news may not be driven by the fact that it was covered by national news organizations as a sort of newsworthiness “stamp of approval.” Instead, Hassell posits that mimicry of national news may simply be because national news organizations have more resources to lead the way on stories that journalists broadly consider newsworthy, or because those organizations operate under a broader sense of newsworthiness that will resonate with a greater share of journalists.

The scope of newsworthiness may also help explain journalists’ apparently low view of newsworthiness of local newspapers’ stories. Since those newspapers’ sense of newsworthiness tends to be more narrowly defined by geography, journalists may be conditioned to view local newspapers’ stories as irrelevant to their own organizations’ goals. This would especially be the case as national politics increases its dominance over local politics in the American imagination.