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We recently began using a cool new tool for spotting potential coverage opportunities. It's a social media monitoring platform called CrowdTangle that pulls posts from community organizations and agencies into a customized dashboard.

We can also use this tool to monitor our competition. One of the columns that we built for our CrowdTangle dashboard assembles the most engaging recent Facebook posts from a large list of regional news media outlets.

There have been times when we've spotted another outlet's story that we would have liked to report first because it involved news in our core coverage of Cayuga and western Onondaga counties. But the more typical experience is to see posts from regional TV, radio and online outlets that are picking up stories we first published at auburnpub.com and in The Citizen.

And in my 22 years in journalism, that's been a fairly standard experience. All forms of news media play an important role in informing the public, but newspapers, especially at the local level, tend to be by far the most prolific producers of local stories.

But don't take my admittedly biased word for it. A recent study stemming from a highly respected media research project has confirmed the important role that newspapers play in the news media landscape. 

The research comes from News Measures Research Project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. The authors of this study analyzed the inventory of more than 16,000 news stories across all media from 100 randomly selected communities throughout the United States. They wanted to see which media were producing the most high-impact local journalism. And their conclusions were unmistakable.

"The results show, fairly convincingly, that despite the economic hardships that local newspapers have endured, they remain, by far, the most significant providers of journalism in their communities," two of the researchers wrote in an article about their work for Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab.

The study is loaded with interesting data, which readers can find through a link embedded with today's column at auburnpub.com. But here is a high-level statistic that says a lot: Local newspapers accounted for a quarter of the local media outlets in the researchers' sample, but almost half of the original stories gathered by the entire sample.

"In sum, while legacy newspapers have declined, they certainly have yet to be displaced as vital producers of local journalism," the Nieman Lab article states. "And the long hoped for emergence of online-only outlets as comparable providers of local journalism still appears to be a long way off. As policymakers and philanthropic organizations concerned about local journalism consider their next steps, and where to invest their efforts and resources, it may be worth keeping these numbers in mind."

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Executive editor Jeremy Boyer’s column appears Thursdays in The Citizen and he can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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