With Friday's one-year anniversary of Mahoning Matters, we decided it was time to find where you are getting your news these days.
One year ago, Mahoning Matters was launched in the aftermath of The Vindicator, which shut down after 150 years of delivering the news. Though The Vindicator nameplate, subscriber list, web domain and some staff members were absorbed as an edition of the Tribune Chronicle, the family-owned, Youngstown-based Vindy ceased to be.
While we’ve surveyed Mahoning Matters readers and financial contributors to get their feedback in the past year, we thought it was important to take a step back and ask: "How is our community of readers doing?"
We were curious to know if the loss of the Vindy had an impact on what people read, how easy it was to find news that mattered to them, along with what, if anything, they’d like to see done differently or be improved in terms of local journalism.
The recently released documentary "Newstown," which chronicles the closure of The Vindicator and its aftermath, demonstrates how local media outlets, including startups like Mahoning Matters, are working to fill the void. Is it all bad news? No. And this survey shows that people still miss the Vindy, in the way that they miss an old friend. While they are shifting some of their news reading habits and enjoy much of what they find, they have plenty of thoughts on how local media could be doing a better job.
Nearly half — 47 percent — of the roughly 345 people who answered our survey said they were former subscribers to The Vindicator, while another 20 percent were regular readers who didn’t subscribe.
Here’s what you told us:
- About half of respondents said they read about the same amount of local news as last year;
- Nearly 30 percent said they read less local news;
- About 23 percent said they read more local news.
In the wake of the Vindy’s closure, plenty of other local news outlets did their best to fill the void — as noted in the "Newstown" documentary. From the Tribune-Chronicle/Vindicator and The Business Journal to local television stations and, of course, Mahoning Matters.
So, do people find it more or less difficult to find information about local news and events now that the Youngstown Vindicator is no longer around?
Nearly half, or 46 percent, said, "Nah, it’s about the same as before. Nothing has really changed." However, nearly 40 percent said it was more difficult, and only 15 percent said it was less challenging to find local news.
We wondered, too, with restrictions on travel and work if the pandemic was a force in changing their news habits this year. For that question, roughly 63 percent of respondents said it had no real impact on their news habits. About 30 percent said the pandemic was a major force in changing their reading habits.
Along with any changes in reading habits, we wondered how people prefer to get their news. Here’s what they said:• Website, 52 percent;
• Printed newspaper or magazine, 42 percent;
• Email newsletter, 36 percent.
When asked how they read their news online, more than 50 percent of folks said they get their news via email, followed by websites, and then mobile apps or mobile browsers.
The top reasons people seek out local news? There were three clear winners: Local government (71 percent), obituaries (64 percent) and politics (59 percent). Watchdog journalism came in fourth (45 percent), followed by arts and events (40 percent).
We also asked readers what frustrates them about local news and what would you most want to change about it. And, no surprises, folks told us they want more:
- Investigative news;
- Unbiased reporting;
- Local events and entertainment reporting;
- Local news about local government;
- More context about what makes a story newsworthy.
And they also told us they want to see less:
- Emphasis on crime news;
- Editorializing in stories;
- Typos and misspellings;
- Repetition of national stories or breaking news.
Here is a sample of the more than 250 comments we received:
• “I am not that frustrated with the quality of coverage — only that I have to search so many different sources to get what I used to be able to get in one newspaper.”
• “It isn’t as personal as it was when the Vindicator was published in Youngstown.”
• “More in-depth investigations of local government would be nice, but I understand that's a funding issue as much as anything.”
• “I am frustrated that some local news outlets only report negative stories or small, national stories that are reported on for views and to divide people, rather than anything substantive.”
• “There is not enough news about Youngstown and the surrounding area since the Vindicator was sold. I miss the Vindicator.”
• “I read both Mahoning Matters, the Vindicator Tribune and watch local news. It is well-covered.”
• “Closure of the Vindicator has meant much less coverage of City Council activities and loss of the DisQus online forum which enabled readers to add to stories. Also, the loss of easy access to Vindy's archived stories.”
• “More is going on than what the media reports. I know there are time and space limitations, but I'd like to know more of what's happening in western Mahoning County. It's as if the county ends at Canfield.”
• “I'm glad I'm getting Mahoning Matters. What I like is there is no OPINION ... just the news. Thank you.”
Speaking of Mahoning Matters, a few of you did give us a specific shout-out. To those readers, we thank you. Here’s two of our favorites:
• "With Mahoning Matters, I am much more satisfied with local news. It's my main source.”
• “I believe that Mahoning Matters daily newsletter has filled a void for local flavor that I used to get from the Vindy — yes news coverage is always great but I liked that I could get to know a reporter by reading his writing. The newsletter allows me to feel the warmth of personality that I got from reading opinion pieces or editor's columns in the newspaper.”
• “Mahoning Matters has done a good job with this, but the local news landscape in general lacks deep dives, explainers and big investigations. Maybe I’ve missed some pieces, but I think investigations have been the biggest thing missing post-Vindicator. The TV stations, and the Trib/Vindy handle breaking news fairly well, but rarely place things in their complete context or dig deep, primarily due to the constraints of the formats. Here Mahoning Matters has been an asset.”
A year after the Vindy’s closure put Youngstown in the national media spotlight as journalists from around the country held us up as an example of the demise of print media and, perhaps, local journalism as a whole, our community has adapted to this new news landscape.
And you seem to know that while it would be nice, there’s no turning back the clock. That led us to one final, and important, question as we try to figure out what’s next: Do you, and would you, pay to read local news?
Here’s what you said:
- 34 percent currently subscribe to a local news outlet;
- 7 percent currently donate to a local news outlet;
- 14 percent used to subscribe or donate and would do it again;
- 14 percent used to subscribe or donate and would not do it again;
- 32 percent of respondents said they had never subscribed OR donated to a local news source.
There are hopeful signs in what you told us. We appreciate the time and thought so many put into your feedback.