There’s a famous saying that “All politics Is local.” As politics has become nationalized and even local candidates are now being forced to follow or defend the pronouncements of the national political parties, the adage is seemingly less accurate. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has caused the news industry to be turned on its head as all news is becoming local.
For instance, when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announces the easing of restrictions on indoor dining restrictions in the state, reporters typically contact local restaurant owners to get their perspective on the development.
When Ali Marpet, a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who played high school football player from a small town in upstate New York, made it to the Super Bowl, he became as much a part of the story as Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes for the local media.
Never has local news been more important than it is today, yet news organizations, particularly in print media, have been cutting back staff and, as a result, cutting back on the coverage of local news. Hyperlocal online news sites are filling this void. A major reason is the COVID-19 pandemic, which obviously is a national story that indeed affects every community. Consumers of news are visiting sites in the TAPinto.net network of 90+ franchised online local news sites to get the latest updates on the spread of COVID in local communities and the implication for school districts and local businesses.
The migration to hyperlocal sites began years ago but with the coronavirus as the catalyst, traffic on these sites has skyrocketed. For our organization, the increase was more than 70 percent over the year before. Further, once people learn about a hyperlocal news site, they are apt to keep coming back for information about community events, charitable activities, school district developments, local government initiatives and high school sports.
While opportunities for in-person coverage of news events have decreased because many town council and board of education meetings are conducted via Zoom, interest in local government still remains high. Coverage of government meetings, whether in-person or remote, keeps people informed about things that are going on in town. Organizations that continue to provide original online local news to readers will continue to grow—especially if the content is available without a paywall.
Meanwhile, print is not the only media industry struggling to maintain its audience. Out-of-home advertising has fewer eyeballs because of the number of people who are working from home and no longer commuting. The same goes for radio. People are in their cars for shorter periods of time because many are no longer driving to work. Thus, the audiences for AM drive and PM drive have dwindled. In fact, radio talkers have increased the production and availability of podcasts because consumers are getting their information from their mobile devices in ever increasing numbers.
Hyperlocal news outlets have learned how to increase their reach by promoting their content on their own Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. In the case of Facebook, readers repost stories that they find of interest on their own personal pages and in online group pages.
News consumption is constantly evolving. As small weekly print publications continue to fold and as daily publications continue to eliminate staff, nimble hyperlocal news organizations with small staffs are helping to fill the void. Given COVID-19, the audience for local news continues to grow and businesses have begun to realize the value of marketing to the local news consumer. These trends will only accelerate in the months to come. At the end of the day, all news is local, and everyone is beginning to realize it.
Michael Shapiro is founder and CEO of http://TAPinto.net, a network of 80+ franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Texas.