Why Local News Matters to the Community, and What We the Stakeholders Can Do to Save It
Billed as the watchdogs for society, newspapers play a critical role in pointing out the ills bedeviling society and entrenching civil accountability at the individual and institutional levels. At the community level, newspapers can shine a limelight on matters that affect people and inform and educate the audience on issues that matter to them. However, the newspaper industry has witnessed numerous upheavals in the last 15 years, primarily due to financial distress and change in fortunes. Statistics show the US has lost one-fourth of its local newspapers over the same course, translating to some 2,000 weeklies and dailies. The development has rendered hundreds of communities, including rural counties, inner-city suburbs, and suburban towns, without a reliable local news source.
Many newsrooms have also been forced to scale down their workforce due to dwindling print advertising revenue. Stakeholders in and outside the newspaper industry are now asking whether it is economically viable to run a newspaper business in the highly disruptive 21st century. Several strategies have been suggested to help stem the downward tide. A local newspaper outreach service can help increase newspaper visibility and advocacy. One of the effective ways to do this is targeting students and schools at the local level. Students, community leaders, and the local business community can be encouraged to write press releases, Op-Ed, articles, or columns and letters to the editor. Here are additional insights on what the stakeholders can do to save the local newspaper.
Why newspaper readership has fallen
The high number of newspapers that have closed shop in the last two decades has rendered many people out of work. Besides that, the closure has left the communities devoid of media coverage on matters that affect them. The most affected population segment includes those living in isolated parts, the economically deprived, and the least educated. Most experts blame the shift to digital readership and advertising for the change in fortune in an industry that has stood its ground for over two centuries. The other big problem is the rise of ghost newspapers brought about by the consolidation of the metro, regional, and state newspapers, leaving the communities underserved for the better part.
Strategies to fill the void
Several journalists, digital site founders, and entrepreneurs are working on strategies to fill the void left by local newspapers. One of the strategies is providing news content targeting the communities without newspapers. The efforts are still in infancy, but they are primarily targeted at the Metro Areas. There is renewed hope the initiative will receive the boost needed to cover more ground over the coming years.
Reviving trust in newspapers to stem the downward tide
The disappearance of local newspapers from the newsstands directly correlates with a drop in trust and credibility. For this treason, the process of restoring the newspapers must begin at the local level, moving up. One of the most effective strategies is coming up with a sustainable business model to run a newspaper in small markets and working out strategies to empower entrepreneurs with a journalistic calling to lead the efforts at the grassroots. Here are some of the outstanding strategies to consider:
- Find a successful business model
A successful business model that is well-aligned with the community needs must be crafted to ensure the newspapers enjoy the support of readers and advertisers in the community. Besides investing in the right technology, higher levels of enthusiasm must be maintained for sustainability purposes.
- Test several business models
Because the newspaper industry’s working environment has changed, several business models can be tested to determine what works best for local newspapers, broadcasters, or digital media. It is essential to recognize that a business model that serves a significant regional news organization or national newspaper may not necessarily work well for a local newspaper vying for space in the market.
- Institute sound modus operandi
Running a small yet successful newspaper at the local level demands little room for error because working with single-digit profit margins could surmount into a lousy quarter. When that happens, the business could be forced to go into bankruptcy, acquisition, and closure in the worst-case scenario. To overcome these bottlenecks, small newspapers need to teach discipline and place cost-cutting measures at the forefront of their operations without foregoing the need for strategic investment. The management should also explore ways to exploit human and financial capital to succeed.
- Invest long term
A long-term investment is critical for any local news organization that aspires to grow. It is highly advisable to develop 5-year financial goals to help manage costs and ensure the business runs smoothly. The newspaper also needs to find ways to improve revenue and sustain profitability.