Audience Roundtable

Truly Local Content Drives Audience


Editor's Note: An edited version of this column appeared in the December 2020 print issue.

Far too often in the news media industry when we discuss audience, we immediately migrate towards the audience department and their various metrics. This is similar to being ill; we often take medicine to relieve the pain of the illness without truly dealing with the root cause of our illness. In the age of COVID-19, local media companies have an unprecedented opportunity to deal not just with the symptoms of what ails us, but to deal with many of the underlying issues causing much of our discomfort.

News media companies must expand their definition of local. While the normal crime, courts, meetings, weather, education, opinion, enterprise and so forth are elements that inform the community, they aren’t elements that bind the community together and grow your local audience. That content is simply the entry point to be considered a product worth consideration. To grow audience of all ages, news media companies need to find the local content that binds a community together, takes a leadership role and ingratiates readers of all ages to your product. That will grow sustainable readership and open new audiences.  

It is no secret local businesses and communities are struggling financially right now. As they struggle, the pain works its way downward throughout the entire community. This will only accelerate in the coming months and years. News media companies must provide unique content that addresses this. More importantly, they must provide content offering solutions and leadership to this growing problem.  One might ask, what would that content look like? 

In my weekly column, “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,”  I share many bits of information with communities that companies ought to be sharing. What I share should be in the DNA of every newsroom. This type of content may be one of the biggest informational topics a news-media company can share with their readers. It will steer the direction a community must take in relationship to this topic determining their future. To be clear, the direction the community takes in regard to this content may determine the future of the company as well. Additionally, it provides an open door for companies to take back their leadership role in the community. Here are six local topics that resonate with local audiences, businesses, city leaders, chambers, civic clubs and more.

Greater Financial Return. Numerous studies over the years show dollars spent with locally owned and operated businesses recirculate throughout your community between three and seven times. This in contrast to those same dollars being spent with Big Box and National Chain businesses, which circulate just once. Using a 10 percent sales tax as an example, one million dollars spent with big boxes and chains return $100,000 in sales tax to your community versus $300,000-$700,000 when being spent with locally owned businesses. Those are real dollars for real communities.

Greater Community Support. Additional studies have shown owners of locally owned and operated businesses support local causes, organizations and charities approximately three times more than businesses with outside or corporate ownership. The foundations of many communities are built through active volunteerism, non-profit organizations and civic groups; this is a vital component to thriving communities.

Community Involvement Quotient. Owners and managers of locally owned and operated businesses are four times more likely to be involved in leadership, politics and chambers in their communities than owners and managers of Big Box, Chain and out-of-town or corporate owned businesses.

Less Poverty Expectation. A recent study indicated a community’s poverty rate is somewhat directly linked to the percentage of prosperous locally owned and operated businesses.  Put another way, the greater percentage of your retail dollars taking place with Big Boxes, Chains and out-of-town corporate owners within a smaller or midsized community, the higher the poverty rate can be expected to be. The more local innovation, creativity and entrepreneurs there are, coupled with active support of such by the various community’s government entities, the greater expectation for an increase in the average household incomes.

Higher Financial Return Downtown. Nationally, dollars invested in the community’s downtown district return on average approximately 30 percent higher return on their investment or ROI.  There is no better return a community can make of their tax dollars than stimulating the return of the heart and soul to a community’s downtown.

Housing Market Stimulation. Want to grow the real estate values in and around your downtowns? It has been shown that by returning the vibrancy, heart and soul of your community to the downtown, you can also expect to see an increase in surrounding real estate values as well. Not only does this create renewed pride in the community, it grows the real estate ad valorem tax base, which benefits the school as well as the entire community.

Communities must be educated regarding the above and so much more. Local communities are being bled dry by corporately owned businesses and ecommerce. The smaller the community, the greater potential pain. When news media companies start providing this information, understanding and education, all eyes in the community will focus on the business (news media) that is trying to save the community. Businesses will sing your praises, city leaders will love the message, chambers will ask how they can get involved and readers will respond.  The best part is our younger generations, whom we have a hard time reaching, will take notice as they relish being local and seek ways to become more involved. When done correctly and strategically, the truly local concentration will bring excitement and true vibrancy to your community. People will be talking about it as everyone in the community seeks vibrancy.  Additionally, it is all about building and creating uniqueness in your community, something that only a truly local concentration can create. Uniqueness will become vital in the new and emerging economics of your community.

Yes, there is a need for audience departments, but their success rests upon the value of truly local content and the efforts of the entire company to excite the community and then provide the leadership in this arena. The news media company is the only business in town with this ability. Building the case for local DNA is a universal desire of all, so why not take advantage of the disruption caused by COVID-19 and reclaim what was lost at a time when it is needed the most? Your ability to accomplish this may very well be the difference in your ability to survive the economic times we have experienced recently and have yet to experience. 

John Newby is the founder of the 360 Media Alliance. He also authors the weekly column, “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” which focuses on bringing local media and their communities closer together through common synergies and causes to grow revenue. He can be reached at


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