The Limits of Local?

In another sky is falling article in MediaWeek, Anne Gordon, former managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and now with Dubilier & Co., makes the interesting assertion that,

the strategy of large regional papers to serve the whole of their sprawling markets with local news sections has been a bust. Instead, papers should leverage their depth of coverage by, for example, publishing e-newsletters on single topics like business or the arts.

Certainly papers have been cutting out local print sections,but it’s not clear if this is for cost reasons (fewer reporters and fewer pages) or because they don’t seem to be engaging readers. The industry has for years taken as axiomatic the idea that the more local the news the more desired it is by readers. Could this be wrong? For many years a key competitor for the Philadelphia Inquirer was the Journal Register Company, as it surrounded Philadelphia with small local papers offering local news. Today JRC is nearly bankrupt.

It seems covering local news isn’t scalable. If you get really local there often just isn’t enough happening to cover it regularly from the main office, and a full out effort to dig out the news requires a news bureau in each locality. How can you make money that way?

Gordon’s topic focus notion raises an interesting idea. Perhaps the right mix is high profile local (regional and city) news, a local topic focus, and a platform for readers to provide hyper-local context along with aggregating the best of hyper-local information elsewhere on the Web. Instead of spending time thinking about how to produce hyper-local geographically focused content, maybe media companies should think about how to produce topic specific information in areas of high interest to their local and regional communities. Could it be that in the rush to focus on geographic communities they’ve missed the real opportunity offered by communities of interest?

2 thoughts on “The Limits of Local?

  1. Axiomatic.
    Engaging readers.
    Hyper-local content.
    Produce topic-specific information.
    Focus on geographic communities.
    Is there any consultant-driven phrase of modern news production that you missed? You want to focus on the chaff – or the wheat? Both were fertilized by the same thing. The semiotics of these phrases all focus on what is the chaff. These “kernels” of newspaper-speak are genetically lacking in nutrition for both advertisers, who newspapers rely on, and he voyeuristic desire of the newspaper consumer.
    “It seems covering local news isn’t scalable.”
    What does that mean? Allow me to provide the answer. It means that the modern news editor, what few of them there are remaining and earning enough to make mortgage payments, feel it is incumbent on them to sit behind a desk an office building, and absorb “news” transferring it into printed form to feed a massive press required to revolve and spit out “product” 7 days a week.
    The difficulty is that there are still a few of us weekly newspaper editors around. Yes! Defying all odds and still orbiting around small town America. The only “scaling” we do is take a day off to catch and clean a fish now and then, but we still manage toe come home with both something fresh to eat – and a story.
    Quaint? No. It’s simply true journalism before journalism was called that; its informing readers, offering stories and news about their town, sewing the quilt together with the only common thread being that it is Thursday, the day our newspaper hit the streets and senior centers.
    Mr. Davis must have been a publisher in a smartly furnished corner office, making the big decisions about the future of his ship of state. he took the buyout, the ship has hit the iceberg, and now he is still the captain they should call back to the helm for assistance in averting disaster. He knows there are not enough lifeboats.
    That is why I, like a sailor with a sextant, wood between me and the ocean depths, and stars above, am now more grateful than ever that I have the same job to which I initially aspired when I got into this 28 years ago.
    Call every consultant you can, Mark, but unless they can chew a lot of gum the big ship is floundering. See you on a sunny shore!

  2. Sheesh! Grouchy is right (and perhaps a tad resentful of people looking down their noses at weeklies)!

    Look, this post was about regional dailies. You didn’t make clear to me the relevance of telling me how small weeklies are doing it. You don’t provide your local news daily (so I still wonder if there is enough news to do that), and you don’t suggest that you are trying to scale (uh oh, a buzz word) your operation. Also, it’s a separate matter trying to scale up a daily than a weekly. Now, maybe what you’re trying to say is large dailies are doomed or they should become weeklies – the former we’ve heard ad nauseum and the latter would be an interesting point to hear more about. Is one of these points what you’re trying to say?

    This is typical of much of the conversation about newspapers in which we find people writing about what is wrong while offering no solution, writing about how they do it (correctly of course) under totally different circumstances, or offering implausible solutions. None of these seems to be particularly helpful.

    Finally, I’ll skip the ad hominem attacks, since they also don’t seem to add to the discussion!

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