Local Media: A Cornerstone of Democracy

By Sarah Harris, VP, Social Impact, Audacy

As America confronts a year of historic challenges – responding to both an ongoing pandemic and calls to action that address systemic racial injustice – the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concentrates our collective attention on yet another issue facing our nation: a loss of faith in our institutions. 75% of Americans feel trust in the government is declining.[1] The problem goes beyond trust, to basic understanding—only 2 in 5 Americans can name the three branches of government.[2] As Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts recently stated, “We have come to take democracy for granted…the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital.”[3]

How do we rebuild understanding and trust in our institutions? How do we encourage civil conversation and even respectful discourse over ideas? While both the media and the government are the subject of doubt these days, the fact remains that people trust local media, and that’s where Audacy sees tremendous opportunity. Research shows that local media is the cornerstone of democracy. It bolsters civic knowledge, promotes government accountability, and fosters critical connections needed in our communities.[4] All these factors drive civic engagement, and civic engagement is a clear solution to the challenges presently facing the United States.

As the nation’s leading creator of live, original audio content, Audacy understands how important this is. Local media organizations have an opportunity to help heal the nation through civic education. Many nonprofits and civic groups are actively engaged in this work, yet, there’s a concerning lack of content targeting adults aged 18-50. Audacy aims to fill this void. We reach 170m Americans each month – and have a unique, powerful opportunity to enhance civic knowledge through authentic, personalized content created specifically to address the issues that matter most to the communities we serve.

We see potential to replicate and expand some of our early partnerships to help shift the curve of Americans’ civic knowledge. The National Constitution Center, hosts interactive civics classes every Friday. These programs make the government more accessible to local listeners from all backgrounds and even give people an opportunity to hear from Supreme Court Justices while exploring big ideas and constitutional questions.

The Civic Spring Project converts education into action by empowering young people to be changemakers. In Minnesota, for example, Audacy station WCCO recently profiled Civic Spring youth leaders as they advocate for unemployment and pandemic benefits for working high school students. This is a great example of the kind of civic learning and action Audacy is proud to support. Not only does it provide a platform for young people driving exciting changes, it amplifies their success, creating a ripple effect inspiring further engagement throughout their community.

This work is a central pillar of Audacy Serves, our commitment to making a meaningful difference in our communities. It’s also an integral part of Audacy’s business in that consumers support brands that stand up for what they believe is right. Half of heavy radio listeners are more likely to choose a brand that takes a stand, and even more prefer brands that are tackling fundamental civic issues like voter education.[5] The numbers are simply proving something we’ve always known – standing up for what you believe in is good for both our democracy and the bottom line.

We are deeply committed to civic education to ensure everyone knows the power of their voice.  While our nation will be focused on the election in the next several weeks, we are reminded daily that our commitment to civic education is a year-round, long-term endeavor. The trusted relationship between communities and [our] local media can be a resource for our listeners and likeminded socially responsible brands – flexing this muscle together to restore the trust and understanding needed to strengthen our nation and its institutions.

Join us and use your brand to engage communities in new ways and encourage the next generation to increase their understanding of the issues, and to take action, so we can all live up to the ideals of our nation.

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[1] Pew Research, “Key findings about Americans’ declining trust in government and each other.” 2019.
[2] Annenberg Public Policy Center, “Americans’ Civics Knowledge Increases But Still Has a Long Way to Go.” 2019
[3] NYT, “Impeachment Trial Looming, Chief Justice Reflects on Judicial Independence.” 2020.
[4] Knight Foundation, “State of Public Trust in Local News.” 2019.
[5] Audacy, “Radio Listeners Choose Brands that Take a Social Stand.” 2020.

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