Sometimes we don’t need to hear the latest news from Capitol Hill or from the other side of the world. Sometimes we just need the latest news from our city, our county, or our region. Local news sources and journalists have the context and familiarity that is critical for understanding how events really impact citizens, be it in downtown New York, in the Midwest, in sunny California, or in the Deep South.

Many local news organizations have been suffering for decades as media concentrates under conglomerates, internet-based media squeezes the market, and small papers die out. Amid these challenges, some local news publications have adapted their models to changing times, picked up new platforms and strategies for reaching customers, and carry on delivering much-needed local insights on the latest stories. So, which local news sites stand out today as the best sources for informative, unbiased journalism?

What Is The Factual and How Does It Rate Articles?
The Factual identifies the most informative and least opinionated articles from thousands of sources across the political spectrum. It does this by using a consistent and transparent rating algorithm to evaluate articles based on their sources, writing tone, author expertise, and publishing site, ultimately producing a grade between 0 and 100 for each article. The Factual uses this data to explore trends across the media ecosystem as well as to inform our daily newsletter. To learn more about how we score articles, visit our How It Works page.

Identifying the Best Local News

Our method for analyzing news stories is straightforward. We collected 1,000 articles each from 43 different local news sources and ran them through our news rating algorithm. The Factual’s news algorithm analyzes each article by looking at four metrics that answer simple questions:

  • Cited evidence and sources – Is each article supported by ample, diverse evidence?
  • Writing tone – Is each article written to convey information or to agitate the reader?
  • Author topical expertise – Does the author have relevant expertise?
  • Publication history – Do other articles from the same publisher score well?
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Combined, these metrics give us a percentage score — a Factual Grade — from 0 to 100 for each article. When averaged together over 1,000 articles, this gives us an estimate of how each site performs. This lets us compare hundreds of news sources on universal, quantifiable metrics. 

Below, we spatially mapped out how all 43 local news sources performed according to each site’s Average Factual Grade (Y-axis) and Average Writing Tone (X-axis). Sites that are closer to the top in the interactive chart are more likely to publish highly informative articles. Sites that are closer to the right side of the graph are more likely to use unbiased, neutral language in their reporting.

While our study is not comprehensive given the more than 3,100 local and national news sources in the U.S., it does provide insight into many of the most well-known local sources from across the country. Our study includes everything from sites with prominent national profiles (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times), to state-focused sites (e.g., AL.com, Oregonian, and MLive), to big-city newspapers (e.g., Tampa Bay Times, SFGate, and San Diego Tribune). It also showcases the concentration of these local news sources under major media holding companies such as Advance Publications and Gannett, who together own 6 of the 10 sources on our list.

Top 10 Local News Sources

Here’s our top 10:

  1. Texas Tribune
    Avg. Factual Grade: 73.8%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.82
    Political Bias: Center

    The Texas Tribune is a “member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization” that aims to keep Texans informed, especially regarding the latest policy issues at the state level. Our analysis suggests the site excels at delivering fact-based, unbiased news, so much so that it scores the highest among all local news sources we analyzed.

  2. Courier-Journal
    Avg. Factual Grade: 70.8%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.73
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The Courier-Journal is based in Louisville, Kentucky and is the highest circulation newspaper in the state. Today, it is owned by the mass media holding company Gannett and operates as a part of the USA Today network of publishers.

  3. Star-Ledger
    Avg. Factual Grade: 70.1%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.58
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The Star-Ledger, based in Newark, is the largest paper by circulation in the state of New Jersey. Despite suffering cutbacks since the turn of the century, the paper continues to produce quality news under the direction of marketing agency NJ Advance Media, a part of Advance Publications.
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  1. New York Times
    Avg. Factual Grade: 69.6%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.64
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The New York Times is perhaps best known for its national profile which makes it a common target, particularly for conservative media critics. However, the paper stands out as the pre-eminent source for local news in New York City, and is particularly notable for its coverage of the city’s art and culture.

  2. Detroit Free Press
    Avg. Factual Grade: 69.3%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.71
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The Detroit Free Press is the largest city-specific newspaper owned by major media company Gannett, and is part of the USA Today network. It is one of many local newspapers hit hard by changes to journalism over the last several decades, shifting to electronic editions of the newspaper early on in the 2010s.

  3. LA Times
    Avg. Factual Grade: 68.4%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.65
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The Los Angeles Times is the leading news source across the LA Metropolitan Area, with many notable achievements, including 47 Pulitzer Prize awards, 1.3 million daily readers, and 27 million monthly website visits, which also gives it a national profile. The paper is owned by biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, whose interest in “non-partisan news” drives the paper’s 21st-century strategies of engagement.

  4. New York Magazine
    Avg. Factual Grade: 68.1%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.35
    Political Bias: Left

    New York Magazine was founded as a competitor to the New Yorker and specializes in all things politics, culture, art, and style in New York City, though it has become increasingly known for coverage of national issues as well. As of 2019, it is owned by Vox Media, the owners of prominent national news site Vox.

  5. AL.com (Alabama News)
    Avg. Factual Grade: 67.3%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.70
    Political Bias: Moderate Right

    AL.com serves as the primary interface for Alabamians with news from across the state, including the Birmingham News, Press Register, and Huntsville Times. These newspapers fall under the Alabama Media Group, a subsidiary of Advance Publications, making the site the major source of local news across the state.

  6. The Plain Dealer
    Avg. Factual Grade: 66.6%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.68
    Political Bias: Moderate Left

    The Plain Dealer, serving Cleveland and northeast Ohio, is another publication that has made changes to adapt to the modern era. It’s content appears online through cleveland.com, an online platform and news site run by Advance Ohio, another subsidiary of Advance Publications.

  7. MLive
    Avg. Factual Grade: 66.4%
    Avg. Writing Tone:  0.78
    Political Bias: Center

    Rounding out the list is MLive, the primary news site for the state of Michigian. MLive is another Advance Publications product, representing the combined online presence of the Ann Arbor News and a number of other newspapers local to the state.

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.