Visions for the Neighbourhood

About one third of all Austrian journalists work in local newsrooms, and their topics are the most read editorial content. The democratic relevance of these almost 1,800 Austrian journalists and their reporting, however, has received little attention for a long time. Not least thanks to crises, local journalism is freeing itself from its hillbilly image and dresses traditional strengths into innovative garb.


Local journalists in Austria: Who they are – and what they lack

Local journalists are slightly younger, less often have an academic title and are more willing to take sides than their colleagues. This fits into the traditional picture: for a long time, the local newsroom was considered the classic gateway into journalism. This may still be the case to a certain extent – local journalists also earn slightly less on average than journalists as a whole – but with an average age of 43.5 years, the general ageing of Austrian journalism is also evident here, as the Journalismus Report notes. In terms of personal contacts, local journalists are closer to their audience than colleagues from other departments. This means that eye-to-eye contact with the reader still characterises the local newsroom, which is also expressed in the more advocacy-like understanding of the role. Nevertheless, from a socio-demographic point of view, local newsrooms represent their audience less and less. The examination of the migration background of journalists by federal state based on 501 representative interviews showed that in Lower Austria, Salzburg, Carinthia, Styria and Vorarlberg, some journalists had a German-speaking migration background, but not a single one had non-German-speaking roots. Overall, the proportion of local journalists with a migration background is around 5 %, significantly lower than the 12 % in journalism as a whole – both of which are strikingly disproportionate to the total population: there it is around 25 %. There is also still a need for gender equality: although just as many women as men (50:50) work in local newsrooms, the proportion of female managers (29%) is lower than that of Austrian journalists as a whole (33%), where the proportion of women (47%) is somewhat lower. This means that female journalists have significantly fewer opportunities to rise to senior positions in local newsrooms than in journalism as a whole.

The creative power of crisis

In addition to the socio-demographic screening of the newsroom, the report focused on the willingness and ability to innovate from different angles. This shows that Austrian local journalism lags behind in the development of innovative, digital media in an international comparison. In the Spanish Comunidad Valenciana, according to a case study, there are 256 digital regional and local media. Converted to Austria, which has almost twice as many inhabitants, this would correspond to about 500 regional and local media. Austria is far from that, as current market overviews show, even if no exact calculation is available: The number of digital media devoted mainly to reporting on the neighbourhood is more likely to be in double figures. Scandinavia or the German-speaking neighbours are also ahead of Austria in this respect. In Spain, creativity was born out of necessity: In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, numerous journalists lost their jobs and had to take the initiative themselves with new projects. In Scandinavia, early funding projects contributed to an innovative media landscape that prevented regional "news deserts" such as those that emerged in the USA.

But also in Austria, according to the Journalism Report, crises set creativity free: for example, local media gained new appreciation and relevance in the wake of the Corona pandemic – also on new channels. In some federal provinces, large regional legacy media such as the Kleine Zeitung or the Vorarlberger Nachrichten have established structures and processes to react quickly to new developments and promote innovation. In the capital, the Wiener Medieninitiative mostly promotes small, local projects. However, for innovative media culture to spread to all corners of this country, there is still a lack of visionary spirit and trust in young and diverse newsrooms.