Local news is where the heartbeat of America comes from. It serves local interests, covers local sports, archives local history, creates discussions about local issues and delivers breaking news when it happens. It serves as a barometer for major state and national issues and bridges the gap between small town communities and broader issues--or at least it should.
But there is a problem with local media and local news coverage. That problem is that we have classically conditioned our readers to rely on the old way of doing things for too long. Many of those who read local news are in fact our older generation--they are still the ones consuming local news the same way that they have always consumed it. They read the local paper once a week and then in the meantime they play the “have you heard the latest” game that ends up being a rumor mill by the time we go to print. That is not healthy for the community and certainly not healthy for the news outlet.
Our more seasoned local news consumers enjoy getting the paper every single week and they enjoy the content. But the bigger issue is the younger generation that cares less about the local gossip and more about being able to get their news fast and now. They care about what is happening across town, across the region, across the state and around the country. The younger generation of news consumers run to Twitter, Facebook, websites and for their news. They follow news reporters and what they are covering. Why does a a younger news consumer care about what is happening across town? Because they are the ones that are going to be traveling across town to go to work, take the kids around, go play, or spend money that is vital to the local economy.
Studies have shown that hyper-local, neighborhood news is really sustaining itself quite well in a journalism economy that is struggling to stay afloat. But here lies the problem--younger news consumers who advertisers need to reach are turning to those hyper-local outlets because they are often too far behind in their news coverage.
“Hyper-local news is struggling because they aren’t reaching the younger demographic in the places that they consume the news that they feel they need to consume” says Jarred Unger, a social media expert and digital media journalist. “What we see is this idea that playing it safe is always best and in the end that will sustain the owner, but if they do not evolve then the organization will eventually die.”
Unger says that companies like GateHouse media, who recently purchased the Austin Statesman are going more and more digital, but they are not focusing on hyper local.
“The Austin Bulldog is a great example of how hyper-local media can be profitable and do a great service for the community”, says Unger. “The have a strong Facebook presence, update Twitter constantly, break things down to the hyper-local level and really experiment with news methods of reaching that younger audience.”
Jake Allison, a digital media specialist could not agree more.
“What we are seeing is the older population doesn’t often grasp the important lines in the news business”, Allison says. “What we need to do is focus on bridging the gap between our younger news consumers and our more seasoned readers.”
That might sound like a tough sell, but it can be done.
Directing the older readers back to print editions and possibly Facebook are great ways to keep them engaged. But constantly updating Facebook with important content, newsworth shares, original reporting and breaking news is vital. The same goes for Twitter and other social media site where people consume news.
“Hyper-local news organizations need to focus on the demand for content” Allison tells me.
Allison also says that we need to allow reporters to “push” their own content in a responsible manner.
Some managing editors are fantastic at letting reporters promote their own websites, their own stories that the outlet might not spend space on running and promoting the brand. But in deeply rural areas, that catch can be debilitating.
“The more seasoned consumers want to see reporters report, not expand on issues”, Unger says. “And that is sad to see.”
With the emergence of so-called “fake news” floating around the method of news gathering has changed a great deal, but with the temperature turning against globalized media outlets, people are turning more and more to local news and editors need to figure out where to draw the line between the way things used to be and the way things are going. That was always the point of journalism anyhow, right?