How can local news journalists who cover rural areas be given support in an age when more and more provincial editorial offices are being closed down? The project "Entreprenörskap i lokala medier på landsbygden" [Entrepreneurship in local media in rural areas] is investigating what can be done to counteract the so-called media shadow that is covering more and more of Sweden's rural areas.
Three researchers from Mid Sweden University and Lund University are studying how initiatives from local journalists can fill the vacuum created as an increasing number of editorial offices in rural areas disappear. The research project, which runs between 2016 and 2019, is divided into three parts where the first sub-project consisted of mapping existing news initiatives.
“With the research team we found between 40 and 50 local news initiatives that under the second sub-project are now being studied on the basis of quality and content. Common to all the news initiatives being studied is that they contribute to filling the vacuum that has arisen as traditional editorial offices have disappeared,” says project manager Elisabeth Stúr.
A new media landscape
Some of the initiatives have existed since the late 1990s while others have just begun. Often they concern o-line newspapers but the researchers can also see a certain trend with video and live features.
“Over the past 10 years more than every third local editorial office has closed. In most cases they are closed because they are not considered to be economically profitable. The consequence of the closures is that they hit the provinces, who lose an important platform for information and debate,” Elisabeth says.
In parallel with the closures in the provincial press we have seen an explosive digital development where social media have played a predominant role among Swedes’ media habits. In many cases these media are unfortunately not considered to be able to fill the vacuum and replace the utility that local journalism provides in the provinces.
“The rural population who live in a media shadow lose a mouthpiece and a possibility to make their voice heard. In addition it can create problems for the municipalities because an important channel for communication with their citizens disappears. Business people and, for example, sports associations also lose an important communication channel to the local population,” Elisabeth goes on.
New knowledge for disseminating
The long-term objective of being able to guide and support local news journalism will be carried out under the third sub-project. During the course of this third part the researchers will be testing their experiences by means of so-called action research. The researchers’ hope is to develop concrete goals and strategies that can be used by the media industry. They also hope that their findings will be able to be used in the country’s journalist training programmes.
“By inspiring and educating students in how to conduct economically viable provincial journalism we can hopefully contribute to local news initiatives.
The local editorial offices are slowly but surely disappearing. A trend that is not predicted to be broken over the next few years. The researchers therefore highlight the fact that a long-term effort is a prerequisite for making a lasting difference.
“This will not end in three years’ time. We are going to need more money so that we can continue to work for more people to be able to access journalism, one of democracy’s most important foundations,” Elisabeth says in conclusion.