Don’t let local journalism revenue opportunities slip away
Despite a lot of uncertainty and painful changes in journalism in the West, technology and digital publishing entrepreneur Christopher Wink isn’t worried about basic access to news and information. Digital technology makes it much easier to publish and distribute information, which has added to the sources of information that people can access. However, though he believes that national reporting can draw on large audiences, his real concern is for basic local reporting, covering regional and local government, communities and neighbourhoods.
Wink is right to be concerned. While there have been a lot of local journalism experiments, there haven’t been a lot of successful projects that operate at the scale of existing local news providers, whether that is newspapers or broadcast. The New York Times just reported some findings from its ongoing experiment in local journalism to Harvard’s Nieman Lab. Jim Schachter of the New York Times explained one of their findings:
Large media organizations cannot afford to cover large geographic areas in a hyperlocal way using exclusively paid staff.
Schachter also said that the Times wasn’t as good as it should be in learning from such initiatives. This is a skill you’ll want to develop as you make the digital transition: the ability to learn as you experiment with new digital editorial processes and products.
The New York Times is one of the few national newspapers in the US, and it found its national model difficult to scale down to the level of very focused local coverage. However, the New York Times isn’t the only organisation to struggle in finding new ways to support local coverage. The Knight Foundation in the US has funded a number of these hyperlocal experiments, and a 2010 review of them found the projects faced a number of challenges such as keeping contributors engaged. Research last year by Borrell Associates found that hyperlocal projects translated into hypersmall audiences that had difficulty attracting advertisers.
That is why Wink is concerned for the future of local journalism in the West, and he believes:
…the history books will likely read that newspapers (or more precisely the journalism-infused organizations that happened to print newspapers) died because they failed to recognize what business they were in (ultimate community information middle man) and so paid no mind as craigslist and Monster.com ate classifieds revenue, couponing went viral, an explosion of web properties bottomed out web advertising and more. … Every day, new revenue opportunities that fit the mission of potential local journalism creators are being filled by organizations without journalism DNA.
Again, I agree with Wink. In the West, I don’t see a crisis in journalism. The public doesn’t suffer from a lack of quality information choices but rather from almost being overwhelmed with choice. The crisis and challenge is that so many of the sources of revenue – classified advertising, display advertising and coupons – have gone digital, but news organisations haven’t been the ones to do it.
Local news organisations began with an advantage in terms of local advertising and revenue. You have the contacts and the sales relationships – the key is to offer digital advertising products to your clients before someone else does.
Article by Kevin Anderson
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