Nick Mathews study of Facebook vs. community newspapers lands in acclaimed Digital Journalism journal

The study analyzes the impact of Facebook on rural and small-town news organizations’ daily operations.

Nick Mathews

Jan. 31, 2024

Nick Mathews, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI), recently published a research study in Digital Journalism, a premier research journal in the journalism field.

The study analyzes the impact of Facebook on rural and small-town news organizations’ daily operations, zeroing in on the social media platform’s increasing dominance of community news that was once the domain of local newspapers — birthday announcements, new jobs and the sorts of daily life events readers once clipped from newspapers and tacked on their refrigerators.

“The economic challenges that these social platforms have created are well understood, so in this piece, we took a different tack,” Mathews said. “We’re looking at the actual content of publications that is being impacted. It’s not just an economic crisis — it’s an existential one.”

Randy Picht, executive director of RJI, said the study makes it clear that local news organizations need to find new ways to engage with their audiences and actively compete for their attention.

“Nick’s research really gets to the heart of the matter: What do news organizations need to do to stay relevant, especially in rural America?” Picht said. “RJI and the School of Journalism support community-centered news that enriches the lives of its audiences, and that’s what this research is all about.”

Mathews, who arrived at the Missouri School of Journalism and the Reynolds Journalism Institute last fall, is just getting started. He is working on a second book focused on the audience perspective of the disconnect between local news and communities, which he intends to publish in 2025, and another project surrounds the police raid on a weekly newspaper in Marion, Kansas, in August 2023.

It’s all part of what he sees as filling an important gap in scholarship on the rural divide.

“What I do is probably a great minority,” Mathews said. “I normally have an audience focus, which is much less emphasized than the journalists’ side. Adding to that, I do it in rural spaces. A growing group are paying attention to rural media, but it’s a really small group. There is a desperate need for more people to do this.”

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