The decline of local journalism: the effects on big, small markets in Louisiana

According to the Pew Research Center, weekly print and digital newspaper circulation has decreased by over 15 million since 2011.
Graphic by Aaron Gonsoulin

Aaron Gonsoulin

According to the Pew Research Center, over the last 10 years, weekly print and digital newspaper circulation has decreased by over 15 million, and with a staggering drop off, what does that say for the future of local journalism, especially in Louisiana?

 Peter Kovacs, editor for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, said though Louisiana news outlets are struggling, overall they’re better suited than most states. 

“I think Louisiana is in better shape than most states because of local ownership, at least this part of Louisiana is,” Kovacs said. 

The Advocate is owned by John Georges, a New Orleans businessman who purchased the media outlet in 2013.

“The Georges’ family actually live in Louisiana and care about Louisiana and circulate in Louisiana and meet with Lousianaians who offer them opinions about the newspaper so it is a very feedback loop,” Kovacs said.

While papers like The Advocate strive to bring news in the form of printing newspapers in the traditional-sense, some media outlets are going digital. 

Christiaan Mader, founder and executive editor for The Current, a digital news publication based and the first non-profit news organization based in Lafayette, said a digital-only news source gives journalists a new way and idea of working.  

“It allows us to play with the idea of what journalists do,” Mader said. “When you’re not confined to the four corners of a piece of paper, you can really open up the concept of journalism.”

The Advocate wrote in August of this year, of the 36 newspapers in Louisiana, 13 are owned by Gannett and GateHouse Media, two of the country’s largest newspaper companies.

GateHouse Media, a chain backed by an investment firm, according to the article, bought USA Today owner Gannett Co. in a $1.4 billion deal.

Kovacs said in most other cases, the newspaper is owned by investors out of state who may or may not have been in Louisiana. 

“Whatever local people think of the newspaper, they may never hear about,” Kovacs said.  

 In Louisiana, Gannett owns The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser, Opelousas Daily World, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Monroe News-Star and Shreveport Times. Gatehouse owns newspapers in Leesville, DeRidder, Gonzales, Plaquemine, Donaldsonville, Houma, Thibodaux and Metairie.

One of the few newspapers not owned by Gannett and GateHouse Media, the Southwest Daily News in Sulphur, aims to provide community-driven journalism despite only printing three days a week, according to Southwest Daily News Executive Editor Brian Trahan.

“I believe, especially with papers our size, there is a niche with staying in touch with the community, with being a community paper and providing sort of the small town news that you can’t get at a metro paper or in larger papers,” Trahan said. 

That niche, Trahan added is more community-oriented news, school news, feature stories, and more or less small-town government entities. 

“That seems to be the niche and what keeps people coming back to us. The reason for the support I think it’s part of society that they can’t get anywhere else. The larger news outlets don’t want to focus on the small-town news,” Trahan said, adding they have that connection to the community. 

“We are in people’s homes and I think just small-town papers will always have that connection,” Trahan said.

And whether it’s traditional journalism or digital media, the idea remains the same when it comes to providing news..

“Being concerned about journalism is being concerned about democracy,” Mader said. ”You can not have a robust, functioning democracy without an independent press.”

Editors from news organizations weigh-in on if local journalism is in decline. 

Video By Aaron Gonsoulin

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