We’ve all heard the phrase “think global, act local,” but in the face of a global pandemic, one info stream is suddenly in higher demand — local news. While global news can be overwhelming, new data suggests there’s a surge in folks looking for news a little closer to home.
This week, the New York Times published a study that revealed how internet usage in the United States has shifted since hundreds of millions of Americans have been ordered to shelter-in-place or self-quarantine during the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak. The data shows how much the way we use the internet has changed as much of our work has gone from in-person to Zoom meetings, in classrooms to Google Classrooms, and hanging out with friends to online hangout parties to watch movies or play games. Much of the data isn’t surprising: Netflix and YouTube usage on computers has skyrocketed. Google Duo and Houseparty, two video chatting apps, have had their usage skyrocket. More and more people are logging onto Nextdoor, the website where neighbors can speak to each other online, than ever before.
But perhaps the most surprising bit of data, at least at first glance, is how people have changed their news consumption. It appears that more people are reading the news for Coronavirus updates, but that the vast majority of those people are looking to read at local and established newspapers like the Seattle Times, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle than highly-partisan websites like The Daily Caller or Breitbart. Traffic at national news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post has also grown tremendously, but not nearly to the extent that local news has.
While that might seem surprising — after all, hundreds of local newspapers have shuttered in the past decade and more than a few have shut down this month as advertising revenue in local news markets dries up, leaving newspapers without a way to make money — it actually isn’t upon second glance.
After all, while national and international politics are important to keep up with, most people are probably more concerned about what’s happening in their local community when it comes to Coronavirus than anything else. How are their immediate elected officials responding? What is their Mayor doing? How many cases have there been in the immediate area and how are hospitals holding up amid the pressure of patients?
Most people don’t check in with their local news as much in normal times. But right now, what’s happening with our neighbors (as evidenced by the increased usage of Nextdoor) feels more important to readers, understandably, than what’s happening in the White House or abroad. I can relate. I recently subscribed to the Dallas Morning News, which is, by all means, a massive newspaper that covers far more than North Texas. But I did it because all of my family is there. It matters to me that I know what’s going on in Dallas, even though I’m not there right now. It helps me get a sense of the situation down there. I check my inbox every day for their COVID-19 newsletter as I check the New York Times or other national newspapers for what’s going on across the country.
Most of all, it’s good to know that people are fighting to stay informed as these unprecedented events unfold. And it’s also good to know that people are finding ways to connect, via Zoom or Houseparty, or by playing video games (Twitch usage has exploded, as well.) We’re all coping with how we can. That might be all that matters.