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CJR report: Small-market newspapers in the digital age

December 29, 2017 at 5:53pm

CJR report: Small-market newspapers in the digital age

December 29, 2017 at 5:53pm

December 29, 2017 at 5:53pm
1. We need to talk about the experience of local newspapers in a more nuanced manner. There is a plurality of experience across the newspaper industry, not to mention across small-market newspapers operating in different towns across the United States. Overgeneralization about the newspaper sector loses important perspectives from smaller outlets.
2. Local newspapers may be in a stronger position than their metro cousins. While local outlets face the same challenges associated with their larger regional and national counterparts, including declining circulations, the migration of advertising to digital platforms, and getting audiences to pay for news, they’ve experienced notable resilience thanks in part to exclusive content not offered elsewhere, the dynamics of ultra-local advertising markets, and an ability to leverage a physical closeness to their audience.
3. Change is coming to smaller papers, but at a slower pace. Attributable to lower audience take-up of digital (in particular among older and more rural demographics) and the continued importance of traditional advertising routes (print, TV, and radio) for local businesses, many local newspapers have enjoyed a longer lead time to prepare for the impact of digital disruption.
4. The consolidation of main street is changing local advertising markets. Although local businesses may be more likely to retain traditional analogue advertising habits, the increasing homogeneity of our consumer experience (manifest, for example, in the rise of Amazon and Walmart) is reshaping local advertising markets. As local businesses are replaced by larger national chains with national advertising budgets, this reduces local newspapers’ advertising pools.
5. Financial survival is dependent on income diversification. The evolution of local advertising markets and, in particular, the consumer retail experience makes it increasingly important that local newspapers continue to explore opportunities to broaden their revenue and income base. Our research found that small-market newspapers are experimenting with multiple means for generating revenue, including paywalls, increasing the cost of print subscriptions, the creation of spin-off media service companies, sponsored content, membership programs, and live events.
6. There is no cookie-cutter model for success in local journalism. Each outlet needs to define the right financial and content mix for itself. This may seem obvious, but during our interviews some editors whose papers are part of larger groups were critical of corporate attempts to create templates—and standardize approaches—that remove opportunities for local flexibility. “What works in one area, won’t necessarily in another,” was a message we heard from multiple interviewees, and a maxim which can be applied to both content- and revenue-related activities.
7. The newspaper industry needs to change the “doom and gloom” narrative that surrounds it. While acknowledging that the future for small-market newspapers will continue to mirror the rockiness of the industry sector at large, our research shows that there is cause for optimism. Sizable audiences continue to buy and value local newspapers. As a result, it is incumbent that the sector begin to change its own narrative. Outlets need to be honest with their audiences about the challenges they face, but they can also do more to highlight their unique successes, continued community impact, and important news value.

December 31, 2017 at 7:33pm
These points could all be taken further in depth and expanded on and I'm glad Christopher and Damian could condense the summary in tweet-able chunks. I know several of these points, specifically #5 and #7 were topics we touched base on when we did an interview the publisher of Little Village, an iconic alt-weekly in Iowa City, IA.
It's a three part series, but if anyone is interested in checking it out - there are definitely some nuggets if information to take away from it.