In another sky is falling article in MediaWeek, Anne Gordon, former managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and now with Dubilier & Co., makes the interesting assertion that,
the strategy of large regional papers to serve the whole of their sprawling markets with local news sections has been a bust. Instead, papers should leverage their depth of coverage by, for example, publishing e-newsletters on single topics like business or the arts.
Certainly papers have been cutting out local print sections,but it’s not clear if this is for cost reasons (fewer reporters and fewer pages) or because they don’t seem to be engaging readers. The industry has for years taken as axiomatic the idea that the more local the news the more desired it is by readers. Could this be wrong? For many years a key competitor for the Philadelphia Inquirer was the Journal Register Company, as it surrounded Philadelphia with small local papers offering local news. Today JRC is nearly bankrupt.
It seems covering local news isn’t scalable. If you get really local there often just isn’t enough happening to cover it regularly from the main office, and a full out effort to dig out the news requires a news bureau in each locality. How can you make money that way?
Gordon’s topic focus notion raises an interesting idea. Perhaps the right mix is high profile local (regional and city) news, a local topic focus, and a platform for readers to provide hyper-local context along with aggregating the best of hyper-local information elsewhere on the Web. Instead of spending time thinking about how to produce hyper-local geographically focused content, maybe media companies should think about how to produce topic specific information in areas of high interest to their local and regional communities. Could it be that in the rush to focus on geographic communities they’ve missed the real opportunity offered by communities of interest?