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$10.5 million U.S. media project aimed at local news gap

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting launched a $10.5 million project on Thursday to increase regional reporting, filling a growing gap due to cutbacks in the news industry where profits have tumbled.

The nonprofit corporation created by Congress will provide $7.5 million from its current budget, with the rest provided by broadcast stations.

Seven “Local Journalism Centers” in different regions will band broadcast stations together to report on issues of particular interest to that area, such as health in Florida and manufacturing in the Upper Midwest.

The project is another example of an expansion in nonprofit news that has given rise to outlets such as ProPublica and the St. Louis Beacon.

Public broadcasters see an opportunity in the changing journalism environment where fewer people are relying on traditional media, there’s increased use of social media, and many search for ways to make money in the online sphere.

The broadcast news industry has been hit by hundreds of layoffs in recent years. In February, ABC News announced it would cut its workforce by what some reports said could be up to 25 percent, and CBS News also announced layoffs.

Paula Kerger, president and chief executive of PBS, said it was “a pivotal moment” for American journalism. “We also must recognize that journalism doesn’t need simply a rescue, it needs a reinvention,” she said.

The public is participating in news coverage by posting stories to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and debating issues on YouTube videos.

Consumers no longer want to just lean back and be delivered the news, but now they lean forward and actively search for information they want, journalism experts said.

“News has become a social experience and journalism must consider those implications,” Kerger said.

PBS television reaches 59 million viewers each week and is seeking to build its online presence with new projects to erase the line separating TV and the Internet, she said.

Politically funded partisan web sites, and corporate and other entities are entering the journalism arena to try and fill the void they see as being created by declining commercial media, Tom Rosenstiel, founder and director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said. “This is an opportunity for public media.”

The concept that Americans rely on one news source is “obsolete,” he said. Most Americans get news from multiple platforms throughout the day. “They graze” and want information on demand, Rosenstiel said.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by David Alexander and by Philip Barbara

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