Guest post: Can local media be rebuilt after the riots?10th August 2011
It was no surprise to me when I read Roy Greenslade’s blog post “Local newspapers fail to rise to the occasion to report on the riots” on Media Guardian. Greenslade is a respected media commentator and professor of journalism at City University – he covers local media avidly.
But as someone who is trying to build a local online media company, articles like this still fall short because they offer little in the way of solutions and what the future of local media needs to look like. Why have local newspapers failed to report on the riots effectively? Can local publishers come back to the fore? What’s needed?
People want to know what is going on locally and they want accurate trusted information. After the riots and Greenslade’s article, it is clear that local media needs to rebuild itself too. Here are three ideas on how local publishers can do this.
1. New commercial and editorial models
Traditional publishers need to start again from scratch. The newspaper model is broken and we urgently need new business and editorial models that supports the future of local online media.
Steve Buttry, who launched the hyperlocal TBD.com project in America (which is now defunct), believes that we “need to pursue non-advertising revenue streams and non-traditional ad approaches.” Local newspapers are still pursuing the traditional model and trying to stick it all online. It won’t work. Local media must start again, from scratch.
By starting from scratch, local publishers can build sustainable business and editorial models – ones which are not based on the traditional print advertising approach.
Those publishers who do this successfully will be quickly able to support the content and editorial strategy around it. The business model is sustainable and is built to fund new innovative ways of reporting for local communities.
2. Get knee deep in the online community
The way we search for and seek our local information has changed. It is not about flicking through the local newspaper. It is about using Google search, Twitter, the TV, local blogs, mobile phones, YouTube and Facebook. Media distribution is no longer controlled by the traditional local print publishers.
Hyperlocal sites therefore can add value to the local community by becoming the hub for all these media channels. Local media needs to get knee deep – if not deeper – into the online community, building and fostering a community to bring information together.
But even more important is using online communities to create long-term relationships.
Local media must invest in building relationships with people in the community. Whether this is with the local bloggers, residents or businesses, local media needs to bring all of these sources together. Local publishers need to be doing this in a variety of ways. But regular events are the most important, and local ‘news cafes’ have even been touted.
Whether it’s a Tweetup or a summer party at a local business, events build both buzz and relationships. Communities in the future will be stronger for it – sharing experiences, knowledge and information.
3. Digital savvy journalists and writers
There is still a skills gap – not just in local media but in online media generally. Graduate journalists are still predominantly trained to think as a print journalist and we still lack people with the digital skills.
Local media must support the future of local journalists by overcoming this gap. Local publishers need to be leading by example and showing local writers the importance of an online presence.
By grasping tools such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google Analytics, a graduate journalist can become of real value to a media owner and its local community.
With the riots, trained journalists are needed to provide accurate and up to date reporting – to dispel hysteria and inaccuracies. Those journalists and writers who demonstrate that they can use any form of media will quickly become the local “go-to” person.
Overhaul local media
Local media can play an important role in covering events such as the recent London riots. People will always want to know what’s going on locally. But local communities want accuracy and they want it to be delivered efficiently.
If local media is to rise to the occasion, it needs to change the way it thinks entirely.
Jonathan Lloyd, co-founder, Media Street