The field of journalism is changing rapidly, with social media and the Internet revolutionizing the very nature of the industry.
Amid these changes, local and regional newspapers have had to significantly restructure their models to succeed in an increasingly digital world — whether that means going online completely, covering more cities than they’re capable of or increasing coverage to include more national and international news. These changes can be detrimental to the valuable institution that is the local newspaper. Local newspapers should instead become hyperlocal media that focus exclusively on small communities.
Take, for example, a collection of local newspapers in Britain called the Tindle Newspaper Group. By focusing exclusively on smaller regions, Tindle Group newspapers have integrated themselves into their respective communities. Rather than being a separate, larger entity that reports on numerous towns, Tindle Group newspapers act as an inherent part of the local community that is in touch with and serves local interests and needs.
Sir Ray Tindle, owner of the Tindle Group, applied this ultra-local strategy to his failing South London Press in June. Three weeks later, sales for the company were up 44 percent. Clearly, there is a huge demand for local news, but business models of the past no longer function in today’s world and must also be re-thought.
Local newspapers have traditionally earned sizable portions of their revenue — up to 85 percent, in some cases — from local businesses’ advertisements. It was an effective system: Consumers knew they could find the information they needed in local papers, which in turn enjoyed widespread readership. Newspaper advertisements today, however, are at a disadvantage in a world dominated by online shopping. Since 2009, the number of online shoppers increased by more than 20 million and is expected to exceed 200 million by 2015, according to an eMarketer survey. And even if you are getting out of the house to go to the store, when was the last time you looked at a local newspaper instead of Google or Yelp to figure out where to make your purchase?
Publishers need to realize local journalism’s reliance on advertising revenue is no longer sustainable. Instead, they should focus on providing the best local coverage possible while integrating themselves into a technology-based society.
Local journalism doesn’t have to be a collection of mundane and irrelevant stories written by aging members of the community, but it also doesn’t have to try to compete with The New York Times — leave it to them and other publications to cover national and global events. Continuing to publish a print edition will maintain that local newspaper feel, and altering it to provide exclusively local information will make the content something unique that readers can’t find online.
This is not to say there should be a rigid line between local print journalism and online media. Local news publications should use the Internet to their advantage — with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and public forums, hyperlocal publications could make it exceptionally easy for members of the community to be informed of and involved in local events.
Many people simply see a physical newspaper as an inconvenient, trite news source, or might prefer quick updates to lengthy print stories. Combining print and digital strategies would help local papers appeal to a wider audience.
Sad as it might be, there is no longer a need for a publication that tries to focus on both local and national coverage. This approach compromises the quality of local stories, damages a paper’s relationship with its community and creates an unreachable goal of competing with larger publications on national event coverage. Also, the Internet has made it financially impossible for local journalism to continue surviving based on advertising revenue.
That doesn’t mean, however, the personal touch of a local paper has to be lost. In fact, focusing on that aspect while staying up-to-date with technology could make local newspapers news sources unparalleled in their use and relevancy.
Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics and is the Daily Trojan’s chief copy editor. His column “Press Pass” runs every other Thursday.