Nebraska’s newspapers always have been the leaders in local news. Although television and radio might serve some communities, our state’s 168 newspapers have been the primary sources of journalism since Nebraska’s earliest history. Our newspapers take their missions seriously. They work hard to get out the news because they believe no community rises above the quality of its local newspaper.

In the smallest communities to the largest, newspapers provide trusted information that links neighbors to neighbors, rallies the community around worthwhile causes, and exposes the problems that otherwise might fester unnoticed, except for the attention afforded in print.

None of this is a surprise to longtime newspaper readers, but to the generation of Nebraskans who unfortunately grew up without a newspaper in their hands, the image may be different.

To those who don’t know better, newspapers are dinosaurs headed for history’s bone pile. Although it’s true that many newspapers are suffering losses in circulation and advertising revenue, they still are serving their communities and churning out important journalism, all while growing their digital presence.

That fact is borne out with the release of a study by scholars at Duke University. Professors Philip Napoli and Jessica Mahone acknowledged newspapers’ challenges, including competition from radio, television and online media outlets.

“But newspapers still are, by far, the most significant journalism producers in their communities,” said Napoli, a specialist in public policy, and Mahone, a researcher at Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.

Napoli and Mahone randomly selected 100 sample communities, inventoried 16,000 stories found on every news outlets’ home pages during one week in August, then weighed the stories on three criteria: 1) was the story original; 2) was the story local; and 3) did the story address a critical information need.

“We found, for instance, that while local newspapers accounted for roughly 25 percent of the local media outlets in our sample, they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the original news stories in our database. Local newspapers also accounted for nearly 60 percent of the local news stories in our database — again, while accounting for only 25 percent of the outlets in our sample,” wrote Napoli and Mahone.

The findings of Napoli and Mahone should silence critics who claim newspapers no longer are the linchpins of local reporting.

Napoli and Mahone concluded: “Essentially, local newspapers produced more of the local reporting in the communities we studied than television, radio and online-only outlets combined.”

See the complete report at www.niemanlab.org.

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