The regional media fights against “the news desert”

By Luciana Gurgel | MediaTalks, London

Among the reasons pointed out by those who advocate changes in the BBC is the fact that it does not fully reflect the reality of the UK beyond the borders of London and Manchester. This impression was corroborated by the announcement (made in July) of the intention to eliminate 520 job posts on the BBC News and another 150 in Scotland, Ireland and Wales in the coming years

Whilst  large media organisations seem unable to maintain regular regional coverage, local communities can at least rely on the local press, which are able to take a closer look at their problems and give a voice to their representatives. The issue is that the regional media is not in very good health in many countries.

One of the most regrettable impacts of the new coronavirus pandemic on the media industry was the blow to the already battered regional press in many countries. In Australia, as our correspondent Liz Lacerda reported, News Corp closed 112 local print newspapers, –  76 of them still keeping the digital version. 

MediaTalks by J&Cia highlights key findings of two studies exploring the challenges faced by regional and local media. And the search of solutions to cope with decline of revenues. 

 

Expanding News Desert is the fourth report on the state of local news was produced by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina,  authored by Penny Albernathy.

Formerly an executive with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she is the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics, author of  Saving Community Journalism: The Path to Profitability and co-author of The Strategic Digital Media Entrepreneur. 

In the preface, she describes the seriousness of the situation of local media in the United States after the pandemic: 

The paradox of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic shutdown is that it has exposed the deep fissures that have stealthily undermined the health of local journalism in recent years, while also reminding us of how important timely and credible local news and information are to our health and that of our community. This is a watershed year, and the choices we make in 2020 – as citizens, policymakers and industry leaders – will determine the future of the local news landscape. Will our actions – or inactions – lead to an “extinction-level event” of local newspapers and other struggling news outlets, as predicted by some in the profession? Or will they lead to a reset: an acknowledgment of what is at stake if we lose local news, as well as a recommitment to the civic mission of journalism and a determination to support its renewal?

In only a few months, the pandemic and the ensuing recession have greatly accelerated the loss of local news that has been occurring over the past two decades. Layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs have affected thousands of journalists in 2020. Dozens of newspapers have been closed, and there is the threat of dozens – even hundreds – more closures before year’s end. While we don’t yet know what the news landscape will look like in a post-pandemic world, we do know there will be a “new normal.” Because this is a pivotal moment, now seems an appropriate time to hit pause and document the state of local news today. That way, we can begin to address the underlying structural issues that have contributed to the rise of news deserts.

The website has interesting – yet concerning –interactive mapsproviding information on the state of local media in communities throughout the United States. It shows information on regional and community newspapers – as well as public broadcasting outlets, ethnic media and digital sites.

The full report is here.

 

Across the pond….

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a report examining how  how local and regional newspapers around Europe have adapted their editorial and business strategies to remain sustainable in the digital media environment.

 

The author is Joy Jenkins, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a research associate at the Reuters Institute.

The research was based on 20 interviews conducted between December 2019 and March 2020 with managers and editors at eight local and regional newspapers in Finland, France, Germany, and the UK. 
The key findings highlighted in the executive summary are: 
  • In the last two years, all of the case newspapers have shifted from digital strategies emphasising the pursuit of audience reach, monetised through advertising or a blend of paid-content models and auxiliary sources, to a focus on building lasting relationships with readers who will pay for online content in the form of subscriptions, memberships, access to premium articles, donations, or micropayments.
  • The news organisations prioritise loyal readers over ‘fly-by’ visitors driven by platforms such as Google and Facebook. They aim to attract these audiences through producing distinctive, ‘value-added’ content that reflects both the classic functions of local journalism – coverage of crime, courts, and traffic – and also allows for continued experimentation in long-form, data-driven, and solutions-oriented reporting.
  • The newsrooms have embraced a commercial mindset that supports the adoption of new editorial processes and roles to enhance digital revenues, including strategies for scheduled content, quantifying attention and engagement, breaking online news, producing in-depth features, developing new products such as podcasts and newsletters, collaborating between editorial and commercial departments, and sharing content among multiple publisher holdings.
  • This emphasis on relationship-building has spurred changes to these organisations’ platform strategies, particularly in regard to Facebook, which remains a significant traffic-driver. Just as Facebook as a company has shifted its focus from public posts to groups and private messaging, the newspapers have scaled back their reliance on the platform for achieving algorithmic reach and instead use it strategically to promote subscriptions, connect with targeted groups, and reach new audiences.

 

The full report is here: Publish Less, but Publish Better: pivoting to paid in local news