Damian Radcliffe
Published in

Damian Radcliffe

8 Key Trends in Local Journalism

Lessons from the Pacific Northwest for newsrooms everywhere

1. Doubling down on unique local content may be essential for survival

Local media produces a range of content — from watchdog reporting to coverage of local sports, arts, human interest stories and listings — which support different information needs.

“If you can go beyond the obvious in those areas that are the most important to your reader, I think you’re going to have a sustainable business. If you don’t, you’ve got a big problem. Because it doesn’t make any difference how you distribute it, if you’re not telling people something that they either need to know and can’t get somewhere else.”

2. The practice of local journalism is evolving

This evolution includes elements of engaged journalism, with a particular focus on listening to communities, as well as harnessing digital platforms to tell stories. Usage of video and social media are already well-established means to engage audiences and share “the news.”

3. Local news providers will not look like they did in the past

Despite their best efforts, much of the income — and many of the jobs — that have disappeared from local journalism will not return. It’s impossible to turn back the clock to an age of information and advertising scarcity, which meant that audiences and businesses had to come to you.

“Whatever local journalism is in the future, it won’t be what it was,” Dr. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, has said.

“It’s going to be something different.”

Image via KGW8

4. Newsrooms will be smaller and increasingly visually oriented

The local newsrooms of the future, much like the newsrooms of today, will need to do more with less. Smaller staffing levels may require fresh approaches to aggregation and greater use of wire services, as well as dropping certain beats or doing them differently.

As Logan Molen, publisher/CEO of RG Media Company and and the Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon) suggests: “Video’s an opportunity for newspapers to come back and tackle, in a lo-fi way, the content that it’s too expensive for the TV stations to go after.”

5. Outlets are experimenting with multiple ways to increase revenue

Given the continued challenge of securing sufficient revenues to sustain (and ideally grow) their business, local media providers are exploring a number of ways to expand their revenue base.

The Seattle Times subscriptions are available on Groupon.

As Jake Batsell, associate professor at Southern Methodist University wrote in 2015: “An engaged journalist’s role in the 21st century is not only to inform but to bring readers directly into the conversation.”

Outlets measure engagement with their content — which in turn can help shape digital advertising rates — based on pageviews, unique visitors, time on site and other metrics. Offline engagement may include events, opening up editorial meetings and other opportunities for direct dialogue, as well as the emergence of “engaged journalism.”

Graphic Recording by Ann M. Jess, www.thedoodlebiz.com. Via Journalism That Matters

7. Local media needs to be more diverse in staffing and content

As many newsrooms are already recognizing, the skills and make-up of their teams will also need to change. Cities in the Pacific Northwest like Seattle, Portland and Bend are growing fast. In some cases, their demographic make-up is shifting, and newsrooms will have to reflect this.

8. Local Journalism is the vanguard for the wider profession

At a time when trust in the media is at a low ebb, local news providers can play a vital role ensuring that grassroots concerns are escalated to elected officials and the mainstream media.

“Engagement plays a part in this, in that it gives people a one-on-one relationship with journalism…To do this, it’s essential that journalists leave the office and go out into the community,” she adds.

This sentiment, echoed repeatedly by interviewees for this study, is essential for establishing the ongoing relevance and vibrancy of local journalism in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. That it’s already happening may give us some cause for optimism, as local journalism continues to evolve and redefine itself for the digital age.

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Research, analysis, teaching materials and journalistic output by the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon

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Damian Radcliffe

Chambers Professor in Journalism @uoregon | Fellow @TowCenter @CardiffJomec @theRSAorg | Write @wnip @ZDNet | Host Demystifying Media podcast https://itunes.app