Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

//Peter Whitehead /july 22 / 2014

Local media should connect people with information, not just report news

The role of a local media organisation has changed in the digital age. The old formula of a news outlet simply providing objective news is out-of-date. Though there’s still a place for straight news reporting, digital media should “acknowledge that their role should be to help connect their consumers to information, people, events and whatever else might empower them to take action to improve their communities”, Jim Brady, founder of brother.ly, a local news startup in Philadelphia, and former Editor-in-Chief of Digital First Media, told Poynter.org.

According to Brady, it’s less about what you cover in your community and more about how you cover it that matters. Digital media need to build relationships with their audience and understand the issues that are important to them, then provide them with information they need to take decisions about their lives. It’s not about telling people how to think or what to do, but about giving them the tools they need to make their communities better in whatever way they choose. Future digital audiences won’t be satisfied with just being told what has happened and don’t want a diet of pure “accountability journalism” – “it’s the relationship with the local reader that will determine success or failure”.

News organisations should also remember that they are no longer the only voice in their community and use it to their advantage. Social media like Twitter and Facebook understand that people want other information sources and link out to other sites, and this makes them more attractive, not less. “How many of the top 100 papers in the country actively link to other media or citizen sites in their communities? Not many.”

As for what makes a successful online news operation, Brady doesn’t pretend that there’s a simple formula and doesn’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. It’s undeniable that audiences and revenues are moving away from legacy – all you can do is make sure you’re built for a digital future: find newsroom and sales staff who understand digital and reward them for it.

One thing that successful digital news sites do have in common is “a willingness to try something new, whether it’s a laser focus on a specific community, an interesting membership model or a major events business. Honestly, I don’t know that the traditional model of hiring a lot of reporters and just writing stories will ever work for a local digital news site.”

Mobile is now the most important platform to watch. “The move to mobile is happening at lightning speed, and there’s no sign it’ll slow down. And, to me, the key to mobile for local sites will be location.” Local media have to take advantage of the fact that they know exactly where their users are and what they care about – this is critical for providing the best coverage and the most relevant advertising.

Article by Peter Whitehead

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