Local Media Is Dead. Get Over It.

Mar 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Commentary, Featured Story, Podcasting, Video

Computer World has published a smart piece by Mike Elgan that looks at why local newspapers are struggling:

The problem with newspapers is that they’re stuck on the old model, where every newspaper covers everything. And the more important the story, the less efficiently it gets covered.

Newspapers delude themselves into thinking that readers read nothing else. The assumption is that it’s not news until we cover it. So every newspaper covers the same story, wasting billions of dollars per year in duplicated effort industrywide.

And, for that matter, a related form of bigotry has always driven the whole “local” model for local radio and newspaper coverage. The model is based on pandering where the constantly reinforced message is that local people are better than people who aren’t local.

Now that the Internet has killed “local,” the survival adjustment that radio and newspaper companies must make is to cover local events for a global audience. Radio stations and newspapers must now consider the larger, newer audience, and stop the bigoted pandering. And they must also stop covering the larger world.

It’s time the so-called local media opened its eyes to the new reality: Nothing is local anymore. And it’s a huge opportunity. The new mantra should be: Cover local events exclusively, but for a global audience.

Elgan is right. When you’re used to getting your news over the Internet, watching the local TV news constantly try to work in a local angle for every story is painful. And getting yesterday’s news in your paper isn’t much better.

Local media is dead. Radio, TV, newspapers – all of it.

The Internet killed it.

The only way local media will survive is by operating with the same efficiency as new media companies and by delivering local news to the broadest possible audience – the world.

Think there’s still a future for the idea of local media? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Image: dreamsjung

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25 Responses to “Local Media Is Dead. Get Over It.”

  1. Erin says:

    I’ve been intrigued with the hyper-local media idea for awhile. I don’t read my city newspaper anymore (I depend on internet sources and national newspapers online), but I devour the two neighborhood newspapers I get, because it’s the only place I can get in-depth coverage on the topics that are important to me. I’m not surprised that those newspapers appear to be thriving while the major daily here just filed for bankruptcy.

  2. msbpodcast says:

    I couldn’t disagree more.

    The only news that’s left IS LOCAL.

    Since we can find out about the events that happened regardless of where, meaning that global distribution of news is almost instantaneous, the only thing left to report on is the local news.

    The aggregation of local news will no longer happen in the same way.

    The Digg, Huffington Post, Slashdot, services will exist for the trans-national community (the only division left is by language,) but they are agregators, not originators of news.

    Communities will be defined in two ways:

    • by location (topography of information and information by topography [the small town newspaper,]) and
    • by choice (topology of information and information by topology [the limited subscription/special interest magazine].

    While the internet can serve both of these, “word-of-mouth” and virality will serve either one at a time.

  3. msbpodcast says:

    The only thing left to do is getting is some way of monetizing which will work regardless if the source or of its magnitude.

    It should be some form of micro-payment run as a non-profit by some federally subsidized off-shoot like the US Mail. (Actually, the Postal Service in each country would be perfect to run this. They are already used to providing banking services like this in many countries, like Belgium.)

  4. James Lewin says:

    msbpodcast – in order to monetize your “local” coverage, news entities will be forced to chase after a broad audience – which means the global Internet audience.

  5. Leigh Hanlon says:

    I get more information about my Jefferson Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago by reading the local Nadig weekly newspaper than I do reading the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times or by visiting the many websites that report on city news.

    As has been pointed out by many journalists — including the late, great Leo Lerner — all news is local news.

  6. msbpodcast says:

    Well Mr. Lewin,

    I think the local news will be distributed for a very, very low cost using the internet.

    But it depends on the definition of local. :-)

    The international nature of internet distribution is essential when we think of the local in terms of information topology (like a special interest magazine,) as opposed to local in terms of topographic distribution (like a bus route.)

    We have never had the opportunity of thinking of ‘local’ in terms other than the topographic ones before now.

    Newspapers weigh too much and therefore cost too much.

    But their “content” weighs nothing and take a fraction of a second to go around the world.

    Now, how could this topologically, and potentially topographically, local be monetized?

    We just have to use existing services (like the postal service) to distribute the money for subscription or acquisition of a single issue of a magazine.

    The postal services are already doing this and handling billions of transactions for delivering the mail already.

    The postal services of many countries, like Belgium, are already behaving like banks with the entire population of the country as their customer base.

    In addition they already have the necessary international agreements in place.

  7. Dave of PCP says:

    There will always be a desire for local news. Local as in “Hey, I was wondering why that road was under construction” or “what’s really going on about such-and-such.” Hyperlocal podcasts have thrived on college campuses (e.g. CU Backslash for Clarion University of PA in 2005-2006). Local podcasts (e.g. GeekRadio.com) are doing exceedingly well and can draw 25+ people routinely at weekly gatherings where listeners can actually see each other face to face.

    People use the internet to get face-to-face interaction with folks of similar mindsets (MySpace, Craigslist ads, Meetup.com). Local podcasting will merely contribute and make use of this trend.

  8. Stephen Beat says:

    I agree with the ‘pro’ local news comments above, and will add…

    My mother (84) lives in a pensioner community where a large number of the people are either hard of hearing or have diminished eye-sight.

    These people are not only a part of the community who are very interested in local news, but their particular disabilities mean they rely on local news services like the large print reproductions or the audio news service.

    As you can imagine this part of our society – the aged – are not altogether conversant with ‘New Media’ and so local news services that have the personal touch are very important to them…

    My mother receives a weekly USB based audio news update, which she plugs straight into a special audio device (supplied by the local blind society) – and this is not only predominantly LOCAL news, but it is read by two local citizens.

    Without local services like this a large part of our aged community would feel cut-off from the rest of society.

  9. Conrad T says:

    I like that part about Newspapers being too heavy.
    As if they’ve been soaking up the water so long that they’ve run out of use.

    The history of the Newspaper is rich with people saying they’re dead. Old media/New media who knows?

    One things for sure: people are going to need the Funnies.
    The modern day newspaper is still miraculous with its 4color ads and thorough reporting, now if we can just get
    rid of those cancer-causing coffee stories!

  10. Leigh Hanlon says:

    Readers might need the funnies, but newspapers have taken a weedwhacker to the comics pages. Even on Sunday, the comics are a shadow of what they once were.

  11. Local news to a global audience – there is a concept that not only makes sense, but it addresses a market that has barely been recognized by marketing people.

    Two basic facts to acknowledge. One is that people are perhaps more mobile than they would really like to be, and the other is that people often feel attached to places where they don’t get to live anymore. Once upon a time, the only solution was perhaps a subscription to the “back-home” newspaper which would arrive too late to really be news. Now, thanks to the Internet, it is possible to come home from thousands of miles away to catch up on local news and perhaps even watch a local TV show.

    There’s something here worth exploring!

  12. I don’t think Elgan really knows anything about the local news business.

  13. On the web… Local aint “Local” its L-O-C-A-L! … and thats Geo!

  14. I agree with Dennis M, I don’t think Elgan knows what he is talking about. Certainly, most incumbent media companies are not addressing the local market but that doesn’t mean a market and needs don’t exist. New companies/bloggers are cropping up and provision of local news is going to become a very vibrant segment. (Note News Corp purchased more local newspapers in Brooklyn this week). Here are my thoughts on this topic: http://personanondata.blogspot.com/2009/03/who-wants-to-pay-for-content.html

    “Traditional newspaper media companies are still consumed by “the machine”. Obstacles as intransigent as union rules preclude a journalist from carrying a video camera and recording equipment and delivering multi-media presented on the newspaper’s website. Perry and those like him have no such restrictions. Whereas actual newspapers could logically be considered a ‘platform’ for the delivery of content, these old-line publishers have no online equivalent. Real success in local reporting would require an ability to templatize and automate the presentation of their news no matter how local the segment. This would allow the newspaper publishers to extend technologies including mapping, photo uploads, comments, polls, groups/community and other services similar to those offered by companies such as yelp.com and craigslist. (In fact, it is hard to understand why there is no local/community news on either of those sites).”

  15. I agree with Dennis M, I don’t think Elgan knows what he is talking about. Certainly, most incumbent media companies are not addressing the local market but that doesn’t mean a market and needs don’t exist. New companies/bloggers are cropping up and provision of local news is going to become a very vibrant segment. (Note News Corp purchased more local newspapers in Brooklyn this week). Here are my thoughts on this topic: http://personanondata.blogspot.com/2009/03/who-wants-to-pay-for-content.html

    “Traditional newspaper media companies are still consumed by “the machine”. Obstacles as intransigent as union rules preclude a journalist from carrying a video camera and recording equipment and delivering multi-media presented on the newspaper’s website. Perry and those like him have no such restrictions. Whereas actual newspapers could logically be considered a ‘platform’ for the delivery of content, these old-line publishers have no online equivalent. Real success in local reporting would require an ability to templatize and automate the presentation of their news no matter how local the segment. This would allow the newspaper publishers to extend technologies including mapping, photo uploads, comments, polls, groups/community and other services similar to those offered by companies such as yelp.com and

  16. You are 100% right and if these industries don’t wake up and catch on they will all end up with the dinosaurs.

  17. Well this is interesting…

    “The only way local media will survive is by operating with the same efficiency as new media companies and by delivering local news to the broadest possible audience – the world.”

    I took the photo used for this blurb. I’m also highly involved in hyperlocal internet based news in Olympia, WA. The “local news” box pictured is owned by McClatchy (MNI on the stock ticker) and is effectively under siege from numerous individual blogs, a local news site making heavy use of Twitter (everydayolympia.com) and a group blog (olyblog.net). The above photo was found because I licensed it under Creative Commons copyright because I agree with the above quote, that in order for the local infosources to survive they need to deliver their content to the world. This model isn’t paying the mortgage yet and that’s currently the biggest problem facing the news industry (what’s the ratio of jobs lost to jobs created?), but somewhere in this mess of trashed printing presses lay the foundation of a reinvented industry.

  18. James Lewin says:

    Jason

    Great feedback, if sadly a little ironic, too.

    We’re going to have a lot of destruction before the new status quo emerges.

  19. Alex Fenson says:

    Excellent article… however I disagree :-)

    I produce and present a “very local” podcast aimed at news and coming events around the New Forest here in the UK. My listenership is in the thousands and my podcast is so popular that it’s also played on community radio as well.

    True, there are massive cut-backs in local new reporting, even on Teletext the local news has been amalgamated into a “wider local news” reporting, however, I think now is the time that new media can come into its own with targeted local news reporting.

    “Local Media Is Dead”? Not if new media has anything to do with it.

  20. James Lewin says:

    Alex – I agree that there’s a lot of potential here for new media.

    Podcasts that tailor coverage to the local audience (the traditional “local media” approach), though, will be marginalized by podcasts that focus on bringing local stories to an International audience.

  21. Steve Mullen says:

    I agree with his premise that the Internet is killing local news, I disagree with his suggestion for a solution — that local news organizations need to stop pandering to the local audience. I think the solution is the exact opposite. I think they need to pander MORE.

    My response: http://www.endgamepr.com/blog/2009/03/10/local-news-must-become-more-local/

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