Over the past several months, I have concluded that local media companies will not survive in the future without the stepped-up help of the communities they serve. I have never seen a vibrant and thriving newspaper in a dying town. On the flip side, I have yet to see a community reach its full potential without a vibrant and community-minded newspaper. We can even take this one step further and add local businesses. You need the media, local businesses and community to be running on full throttle to reach their potential.
The only problem with this thought process is building the trust, energy and synergies between these three entities. All three probably believe they are working well with each other. However, when you drill down, you find nothing can be further from reality. I could go into the "why this is" from the community's perspective, the business base and the media. Still, I'll stick with the media angle since this is being written for a media audience.
Many media companies believe they are local because they provide local news, sports, obituaries, attend school board and city government meetings, and so forth. I hate to disappoint; however, this is just meeting a minimum expectation by the readers within your community. Meeting a minimal expectation never produces much fruit. You have done nothing that sparks growth, builds new bridges, provides true thought and actual leadership, or transformative excitement to the community. Most media claiming to be local have merely become a simple informational commodity among many other local information sources.
For local media companies to survive and thrive into the future, they must deliver beyond what they traditionally have offered. Regardless of other local competitors such as newspapers or radio stations, they must understand their most significant threat — that of their reader’s limited time. Media companies must realize they are fighting for everyone's time and must be competitive, just like a retail or service business. As a result, they must under-promise, over-deliver, build trust, create synergies, provide leadership and fill critical content gaps.
As I discuss in my weekly column, "Building Main Street, not Wall Street," local media companies are missing what perhaps might be some of the biggest economic stories a community needs to understand. They must provide the written leadership that most communities crave but rarely receive from their local media. They must educate their readers on making their community stand out from others and thus draw more tourism and visitor dollars. I have heard editors on more than one occasion say, "Our job isn't to be a community cheerleader; it is to provide unbiased locals news and information." I would beg to differ. Without sacrificing editorial standards, they must be the biggest cheerleader their community has ever seen. There are ways to provide content that both educates and stimulates the local economy in significant ways.
I can confidently say that media companies will not survive without the assistance of their local community and business base. They must reach out and find common ground to build synergies that lead to a strong foundation. Most communities not only want this relationship, but they also crave it. The question is, are you able to provide that which is needed or are you simply running out the clock, continuing to cut, and pretending to be local until the clock strikes midnight and you disappear? Don’t settle, be that company that refuses to quit. Be that company your community will be proud to support because of the pride you instill.
John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column and CEO of Truly-Local, LLC. He is dedicated to assisting communities in creating excitement, energy and combining synergies with their local media, where LOCAL is often lost to corporately-owned entities and the Internet. His email: info@Truly-Localllc.com.
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