If you look at the results from a Pew Reasearch study that was just released a few weeks ago, it seems that Newspaper is not entirely dead when it comes to local information and events. It does seem to make perfectly clear that there are opportunities to fill the gap to provide comprehensive local community updates. The question is whether the gap is worth the investment to fill it due to its many challenges.
|How People Learn About Their Local Community|
|News Source||% Of All Adults Who Rely Most On Source|
|Local newspaper (includes print and web)||
|Local TV (broadcast and web)||
|Internet (search, social, web)||
|Local government (office and web)||
|Word of mouth||
|Print bulletin or newsletter||
|Mobile phone (apps and email)||
|Source: Pew Research, January 2011 data|
The study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project, produced in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation covers a lot of ground without a clear guide on the future – but that should be expected with the proliferation and lack of consistent sources evident local media.
Depending on the market, local television news spends most of its time on the sensational news – which doesn’t carry much personal community relevance. Additionally, their viewership hits an older demographic as does Newspapers who do cover those local communities to an extent. There are weeklies who might hit a younger audience – like the Village Voice, LA Weekly and Boston Phoenix – and even smaller community papers who do cover local items more fully, but they struggle to stay afloat and are seeing their distribution continue to shrink. Most digital news aggregators don’t focus on the communities but the larger city, state and national news. With many turning to those aggregators for information- bypassing the newspapers and television – it is that much harder to receive information about local happenings by chance. In dense American cities and other global locations where public transportation and walking is prevalent, there is a bit more opportunity to come across news and events by chance – whether by seeing signs plastered throughout the city or picking up papers that are left on the Metro or Tube to flip through while commuting.
Radio does sometimes hit on the local events, but more and more people are moving from local radio to mp3 players, satellite radio or certainly replaying the same CD (or 6) in their cars. NPR stations do a decent job of covering local news and events, but even those stations are having to cover more ground as numbers are shrinking. In the case of Los Angeles’ KCRW, they are transmitted in other Southern California cities who do not receive their own community news to the extent that LA or Santa Monica news is covered.
Which leads us to online, mobile, apps and social communities. With any of these, there is usually a bit of “searching out” that does not allow for the quick buzz generation that is needed to bring the subject and events into the larger community that will then lead to “chanced upon” awareness. Certainly, Twitter and Facebook have been highlighted as key communication tools for drawing crowds – most recently in the political realm of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and others – but those political drivers are not really those community events that are underserved.
While there is a buzz about foursquare, Gowalla and other location-based networking apps, they don’t serve that community need. There is really not a lot that provides community news, event listings and opportunities for chatter based on where you are or where you are going. Certainly, Facebook and Twitter provide opportunities for social sharing, but to get the information to those users is a bit of a challenge. In the case of some larger events, the organizers spend a lot of money on traditional advertising like billboards and larger media spends to generate the traffic they need. With that, it causes the price for community events to go high enough that it limits how much of the community can actually participate.
If there was a reasonable opportunity to provide a “go-to” outlet for local news and event announcements AND also allowed for the social sharing, that could fortify the local community news source. But again, the challenge is whether people really care and if it is worth the expenditure. If there were a cost-effective way that could reach a critical mass, it could be worth it. Some possible solutions could be a digital network of broadcast affiliates or the publisher of local weeklies like Village Voice Media – who publishes New York Village Voice, LA Weekly, SF Weekly, Denver New Times and others – to offer that local community resource pulling on the data they already maintain. They could certainly aggregate the news, advertising and event listings to handle local outlets nationally.
No matter how you slice it, the ways for local news, events and ideas is becoming more and more diverse and challenging as time goes on. With money getting tighter, it’s a growing concern whether there will be a discovery resource at all.