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Articles, Tech

Local News Can Win Their Uphill Battle

By OpenWeb

We’ve heard for more than a decade now that local news is dead. Joshua Darr, in a recent piece for FiveThirtyEight, pointed out that “From 2000 to 2018, weekday newspaper circulation fell from 55.8 million households to an estimated 28.6 million.” Yet, in a 2019 national survey by the Knight Foundation and Gallup, respondents reported they felt local news media are “better than national news at covering issues Americans can use in their daily life (79%) – and in reporting without bias (66%).”

Clearly, readers have a desire for hyper-relevant local content – even as the nation trends away from local news and ad revenues, on average, continue to fall.

That’s because, despite this opportunity, it’s an uphill battle for local outlets and affiliates to build an audience in the digital-first news economy. Not only are local news outlets competing with national news desks encroaching on their territory, but – like everyone else – they’re also competing with Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram and TikTok, where new communities are springing up, filling the void for hyperlocal connections and news reporting.

Social platforms’ algorithms determine how many people consume media, news, and other information. Sure – posting content on social media can bring a reader to your page for a moment to view an article, but is that a valuable visit? 

Yes, somewhat. But that reader’s conversation about the article, their sentiment regarding it, and other forms of engagement – valuable first-party data to inform editorial and monetization strategies – is happening on social platforms. Infamously, the walled gardens won’t share this type of data with publishers. 

Publishers need to form 1:1 relationships with their readers. How to do that is a challenge, but there are readily available solutions. More on that below.

The Importance of Local Media

Before we get into the solution let’s identify the problem – and what’s at stake. 

Take the recent fires in the West, Hurricane Ida, or Hurricane Henri as examples. While national outlets cover these events, the reporting is quite different from what a local publisher can provide.

Local media outlets can tell more granular stories about the potential impact with relevance to that region. What parts of the state should be most concerned, or should evacuate areas? And that’s just the reporting – online communities of geographically close people can offer up-to-the-minute updates when they’re needed most, especially ones wherein journalists and community members interact.

Catching Up to the Technology Curve

The news business has been modernized by technology, but innovation hasn’t been shared equally. Embracing technology could mitigate some of local publishers’ pain points, like owning engagement, harnessing insights from readers, and more.

That’s where efforts to build a true online community come into play–including hosting a comments section.

OpenWeb’s commenting platform enables local publishers to own relationships with audiences and monetize interactions that without comment sections would occur on social media. These comment sections can turn casual readers into highly engaged audiences that are loyal to your publication. In the attention economy, loyalty is everything.

The value that this technology can bring isn’t just tied to a publisher’s ability to connect with readers and build audience loyalty. It can – and should – enhance how journalists, reporters, and editors produce content. We compiled the top five ways local news publishers can build community in our eBook, The Local News Guide to Community. As a quick preview, here are two:

  1. Live Blog

Incorporating Live Blog into a local newsroom workflow can revolutionize an editorial team’s ability to cover events in real-time. For instance, this tool could be helpful to provide meaningful updates on evacuation times, shelters or relocation centers, as well as links to resources for funds and essentials such as food and water in times of natural disasters.

Live content gives a reader more incentive to stay tuned in and to keep coming back, because it’s constantly updated with new information, and readers’ are able to get it faster and more seamlessly than going out and finding it elsewhere.

  1. Ask Me Anything (AMA)

Our publishers use AMA to forge connections and community. Through AMA, readers can pose questions and your editorial team can create and share content that answers a reader’s questions and concerns–all live. This is a powerful way to drive engagement and time-on-site. In a recent AMA, one publisher in our network saw increased session time, including an average of 14 minutes, 35 seconds spent on-site among those who asked questions, versus a benchmark of just 1 minute, 11 seconds across their other content.

And there are more ways that local news media can make an impact on their viability by focusing on creating community. We compiled five of the top ways local news media can take action in The Local News Guide to Community. Follow the link to take a look, and let’s have a conversation.

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