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Brady CJRI am late reading Jim Brady‘s Columbia Journalism Review piece on local media. But it’s outstanding and worth catching up on. If you care about local news and also missed it initially, take the time to read it now. It’s long but well worth the time.

Just a few highlights:

Jim absolutely nails the brutal user experience at most local newspaper sites:

Slow load times? Check. Pop-up ads? Yes sir! Auto-play video? Of course! Forty-page slide shows? Why not? User experience? Sorry, not familiar with that term.

A good friend, who has been doing some excellent work, works for a Gannett newsroom. I see a link to some of his work on social media and click on the link. And Gannett tries to push me away with horrible load times (I give up on my iPad before it even loads) and with a question (or a few) I need to answer before I read the story. More often than not, I leave in frustration. And I’m earnestly and patiently trying to read the work of a good friend. How many readers who aren’t trying to read friends’ work give up even sooner?

Jim, founder of the Philadelphia local news site Billy Penn, also explains why he’s optimistic (I am, too) for local news startups:

I think now is the perfect time to start a local digital news operation. There are few greater gifts in journalism than a blank sheet of paper. Billy Penn started with nothing. We had no history, but no baggage. We had no brand recognition, but no brand fatigue. We didn’t cover everything, but we didn’t have to cover everything. Every disadvantage is an opportunity to create an advantage.

I get sick and tired of people dismissing local news as a place of failure for digital startups because of the failure of Patch, the abandonment of TBD‘s strategy (see disclaimer below) and other local ventures that didn’t last. I sent Ken Doctor an email last month, taking him for task for erroneously describing local news as “a sector that’s all but been left for dead.

Actually, local news is a sector with dozens, if not hundreds, of success stories. They’re mostly small success stories that escape the notice of most big-picture analysts, and the sector needs thousands of success stories, but Jim’s optimism is justified, and he lists some of the successes:

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many entrepreneurs out there trying their hands at local. On the for-profit side, there’s Billy Penn and The Incline, its soon-to-be sister site in Pittsburgh, plus Berkeleyside, Charlotte Agenda, Mission Local, ARLnowBaristanet, the Watershed Post, the upcoming Denverite, and many others. On the nonprofit side, there are early pioneers like Texas Tribune, Voice of San Diego, and MinnPost, plus new sites popping up seemingly every week. Spanning both models are members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers group (LION), including sites such as The Batavian, Richland Source, The Lens, and many more. Journalism consultant Michele McLellan tracks the growth of local sites at Michele’s List.

But there’s room for so much more—unlike in national, the local digital field remains relatively wide open.

If you care about local news, read through Jim’s piece. He captures the excitement and potential of local news.

Disclaimer that won’t be necessary for longtime readers of this blog: Jim and I are friends and he hired me twice, to work at TBD and Digital First Media. And I’d gladly take a third round with him.

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When I started in the newspaper business, “local news” often meant who was sick and who was visiting.

My first job as a journalist was at The Evening Sentinel, a daily newspaper of about 4,000 circulation in Shenandoah, Iowa, that went out of publication in the 1990s. I was a sports writer, covering the school teams in nearby towns even smaller than “Shen.”

Chuck Offenburger, the sports editor, and I filled some space in the back of the paper with game stories and features on local athletes. The front page reported big (for Shen) news such as the city council and school board actions and an occasional crime or court case. But the heart of the newspaper was what we called the “locals,” a string of one-paragraph tidbits giving updates on someone’s illness or telling whose kids were visiting from college or from the distant big cities where lots of Shen’s kids moved off to (and if you were in Shen, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City were big cities). (more…)

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