Editorial: Local News and Newspapers Deliver a Winning Combination

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By: Jeff Fleming

Local news continues to be the mainstay when it comes to solving newspapers’ 21st century challenges. The newest report by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project revealed that “72 percent of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need. In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others.”

The Pew report focused on “local news enthusiasts,” which overwhelmingly named newspapers as their preferred information source for 12 out of 16 local news topics named on the survey. (http://bit.ly/HP6BkF)

The newspaper brand remains a prominent information source, and these findings offer encouraging insight when it comes to helping newspapers strategize editorial content and develop successful advertising programs. But as more competition enters the market, newspapers need to continuously maintain and strengthen their grip on local news content and do so by taking a cue from technology, which never stands idle. Editors and publishers should constantly be asking, “How can we improve and develop our content by taking advantage of the latest digital and printing breakthroughs?” Creativity, ingenuity, and intelligence drive content delivery — and the most successful initiatives will be those developed by writers, designers, and Web developers working as a team.

In March of this year, Heritage Media (a Digital First Media affiliate) flexed its digital muscles with local coverage of a tornado that ripped through Dexter, Mich. Managing editor Michelle Rogers posted an overview of the coverage in a blog post: “As a group of weekly publications in print, it has been an ongoing challenge to get our audience to realize we’re now a daily online. I think the tragedy of the tornado served as a reminder to readers that they don’t have to wait until Thursday to get their local news, and we’re happy to oblige, providing breaking news coverage from news stories, Storify compilations, photo galleries, and videos to Tweets and Facebook posts, and SMS texts to email alerts.”

This month, Gannett’s Journal News Media Group announced it is expanding local coverage of taxes, food, home, schools and education, real estate, and communities. The plan clearly punctuates local, focusing on topics readers identify as most important — almost a complete list of the preferred local topics cited in the Pew study. Under the new content model, all subscribers will have access to print editions of The Journal News and lohud.com, with iPhone, iPad, and Android applications. “Our core value is local content,” Journal News Media Group president and publisher Janet Hasson said.

Local also a plays a key role in advertising. Last month, Kip Cassino, executive vice president of Borrell Associates, in an interview with Media Life magazine revealed two of four factors that are helping fuel the growth of newspaper websites. “They have big local sales forces that know their markets intimately and they are trusted by their local advertisers, from years of contact.”

More and more newspapers are proactive in their local communities, maintaining and building a reputation that not only includes news, but also trusted relationships. If content is king, local content and interconnection may be newspapers’ Almighty Saviors.

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